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Adaptive sports offers soldier new sense of purpose

Army Veteran Clarence Davis enjoys snowmobiling on day 2 of the National Disabled Veteran Winter Sports Clinic on April 4, 2024, in Aspen, Colorado.

By Janelle Beswick, Acting Public Affairs Officer VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System

SNOWMASS, Colo. - Command Sergeant Major Clarence Davis was gearing up for his 14th deployment when his medical team dropped a bomb. After 20 years in the Army, he was going to be medically discharged. It felt like he was losing his sense of purpose.

Davis enlisted in 2001 just before September 11, and by October 1 he was headed to basic training. He was the first person of his family to enlist, driven by a desire for travel and adventure, and to avoid the humdrum of a 9 to 5.

His special forces career took him on 13 combat deployments to Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa – to name a few. Davis was a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), also known as the Night Stalkers.  

“I was scheduled for my 14th deployment, but when my new care team saw my medical records, they said ‘You’re done. You have nothing else to prove,’” recalled Davis. “My deployment orders were canceled.”

Davis was sent to the Fort Bragg Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU), where he received surgery on his feet and was scheduled for shin, knee, and hip surgeries. He estimates that he spent eight to twelve months in full time medical treatment at the SRU. With 40 service-connected disabilities, many of his injuries are invisible, including chronic PTSD, multiple traumatic brain injuries, and migraines.

However, the shock of his medical retirement lasted past his time in the SRU.

“My sense of purpose was lost, I was lost,” said Davis. “I was a Command Sergeant Major and then I was out of the military, just like that. It was really tough for me when I transitioned out.”

Losing his sense of purpose was devastating for Davis. He withdrew from family and friends and stopped doing things he loved. It took him about six months before he reached out to the VA, after a friend told Davis he needed to seek help.

He currently receives his care at the VA Washington DC Health Care System, and his care team referred him to recreation therapy. He was skeptical at first, but the recreation therapist helped change his perspective. She told Davis not to focus on what he can’t do anymore, focus on what he can do.

Davis fell in love with recreation therapy, and he now tries any sport he can. He is involved in bicycling, kayaking, rock climbing, sailing, tennis, badminton, pickleball and more.

“Recreation therapy got me out of that depression. I felt like I had purpose again. I started being around Veterans outside of a therapy setting, so it was more about camaraderie and fun,” said Davis. “It just changed my whole way of thinking about fitness, but also happiness, joy and a sense of purpose.”

The recreation therapists introduced him to the VA Adaptive Sports and Arts events. In 2023, Davis attended the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic for the first time.

He had never tried skiing before his first Winter Sports Clinic, and it is now his favorite adaptive sport.

“I love the independence of it, I love being up there by myself with a pair of instructors to keep me calm, and just being in the mountains.”

Davis also loves the Winter Sports Clinic for the sense of belonging he feels amongst fellow disabled Veterans, where everyone can relate to each other on some level. He enjoys being able to talk with other Veterans and share his story.

“Life is not over after the military. You may need to adapt, just like the military taught us, but you can adapt and overcome.”

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