Thursday, May 24, 2007

Delivering messages of hope - Amputees face obstacles, fight for fulfillment of dreams

By Roger McBain (Contact)
Sunday, May 20, 2007

Among them, the three featured athletes in Saturday's 5K Hero's Race/Walk were missing an arm and five legs.

The way they tell it, they're not that different from anyone else who turned out to participate in or cheer on the 125 people who walked and ran in the Habitat For Humanity fund-raiser at HealthSouth Deaconess Rehabilitation Hospital on Covert Avenue.

"We all face obstacles and challenges," said Dana Bowman, a former Army Ranger and Special Forces member who lost both legs in a 1994 free-fall practice with the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.

"The big message is not to give up," he said.

Bowman wore high leather jump boots on high-tech prosthetic legs, one of them controlled by a computer processor inside, when he parachuted from 3,500 feet to land within yards of three silver balloons tied down in a grassy area next to the hospital.

He didn't run in the race, but he introduced two members of his team, sponsored by Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, who ran the event on legs with long strips of springy metal in place of feet.

John Siciliano lost a leg in Pittsburgh in 1991 when a drunk driver struck the open Jeep in which he was a passenger.

Cameron Clapp was a 15-year-old surfer and skateboarder in Pismo Beach, Calif., when a freight train struck him, taking both legs and an arm.

"We're all here to show you what we can do with our abilities, not our disabilities," said Bowman.

All three men travel the country talking to all kinds of audiences, from veterans who've lost limbs to coliseums hosting sporting events to classrooms and auditoriums filled with children, like the hundreds of students the group met with in several Evansville appearances last week.

Siciliano's own injury was just one form of the unforeseen curves life may throw at any of us, he said.

"Tragedy is going to happen. It's how you deal with it; how you move ahead."

Clapp talks candidly to students about his own experience as both a cautionary tale and an inspiration.

Bad choices can have serious consequences, said Clapp. "For instance, there's me." When the train hit him, he said, "I was drunk and passed out on the tracks in front of my house."

His response to his injuries, however, reflects the kind of positive choices he hopes to inspire in those he encounters in classrooms or on the race course.

"Never let your challenges get in the way of your dreams," he said.

Clapp recovered from his injuries and found adaptive prosthetics that have allowed him enjoy an active life that includes golf, fishing, swimming and running. He competes in the swim portions of triathlons, and he runs in sprint races. Saturday's run was his first successful five-kilometer event, he said.

"It's all about goals," said Clapp. "I just achieved one of my goals today."

Money from Saturday's run raised about $7,000 toward Deaconess Health South's goal of $50,000. That's how much is needed to build a Habitat for Humanity home in September for Judy Jourdan, an Evansville woman who left her home in Eastbrook Mobile Home Park after the Nov. 6, 2005, tornado decimated her neighborhood.

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