To Land On Target
Nov. 5, 2013
By Britton Drown
Just five months had past, but that was long enough. The Intensive Care Unit in Phoenix, Ariz., the funeral in San Antonio and rehab at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C - it was enough.
In his determined and steadfast mind, Dana Bowman knew what his next step had to be. With a weekend pass in hand, though granted with hesitation by doctors, he stood upon his still unfamiliar prosthetic legs and left for North Carolina.
"I knew what I was going to do," Bowman said. "I was going to jump from a plane."
Five jumps that February morning in 1994 went as planned. The Golden Knights of the U.S. Army were doing what they did best, gliding across the sky as only one of the most well trained parachute teams could.
The trails of red, white and blue glistened like fresh paint on the horizon as the elite parachute team turned skydiving into artwork that morning.
Bowman was one those streaking across the sky. Originally a U.S. Army Engineer, he climbed the ranks within the military - collecting tabs of Ranger, Airborne and Special Forces before earning a spot on the Golden Knights Parachute Team.
"That was probably one of my proudest moments," he said.
Though on the final jump that morning, his life forever changed.
"In one split second," Bowman said. "It was all taken away."
On that final scheduled jump, the Golden Knights created a diamond shape while falling towards the Yuma terrain. Bowman, and his partner Jose Aguillon reached the furthest extent of the shape before circling back towards one another.
Screaming across the sky at speeds nearing 300 miles-per-hour, the two collided in midair. Aguillon's body severed Bowman's legs on impact, and he went tumbling toward the ground.
It was two days before Bowman awoke from the accident, and was told consciously for the first time the grueling price of the accident. He lost both his legs, and Aguillon, his close friend whom Bowman often praised for his inspiration and uplifting spirit, lost his life.
Five months later, after driving through the night in a vehicle left at Walter Reed Hospital by a close friend, Bowman made the first leap of his new life.
And he landed, safely, on target at the wedding of a close friend and Golden Knights teammate.
"That was the beginning," he said. "It changed my whole life."
No, the horrific accident that February morning in 1994 didn't alter his life.
He wouldn't let it.
"I knew I still had what it took to not give up," Bowman said. "I had to continue on."
So Bowman made that drive from Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. through the night to North Carolina where he and his parachute team were scheduled to jump even before his midair collision five months earlier.
That very first jump showed his doctors, and the world, what he was truly capable of.
"Some of those doctors just didn't understand not wanting to give up," Bowman said. "I didn't want that. I just adapted."
With the jump completed, he made another - perhaps more significant jump - a short time later when Bowman officially re-enlisted into the United States Military at a ceremony in Fort Bragg, N.C. just nine months after the accident. That day, he officially became the first double-amputee to actively re-enlist back into the military.
"That was my goal," he said. "I wanted to show them what I could do, and that's what I did. I snuck out of the hospital, made my jump, and nine months later triumph arose."
Bowman went on to be named the Veteran of the Year in 1995 before retiring in 1996.
Since then, Bowman has jumped into a new role as one of the most inspirational speakers and performers in the country. His story of resiliency, of not accepting limitations and becoming a living example of just what the human spirit is capable of, has captured the imaginations of people for more than a decade.
Following his remarkable comeback as the first double-amputee to re-enlist into the United States Military, Bowman is now as a member of Team Fastrax Professional Skydiving. Combining speaking engagements and performances, he has completed nearly 4,000 jumps - all with the aspiration of motiving individuals just as he was.
Not only is he a professional skydiver, but Bowman went on to receive his commercial aviation degree and became the first double-amputee helicopter instructor in the world. He has also snow skied, waterskied and biked with the help of his prosthetic legs.
"I was given a chance to live," Bowman said. "And that's what I have to do each and every day."
Meanwhile, he's spread his story across the country while also appearing on national news programs. Peter Jennings featured Bowman as the National Person of the Week shortly after he re-enlisted. His story has appeared in Time, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated and more.
Though for Bowman the drama and inspiration of his story all returns back to what he believes is the central theme and ultimate message.
"The biggest thing is landing on target," Bowman said. "Showing the American public that no matter what your disability is, you can still land on target."
On Saturday, Bowman will land on target once again.
As part of the Lone Survivor Game, Bowman will parachute into Jones AT&T Stadium flying the United States flag and Purple Heart parachute. Meanwhile, as a member of Team Fastrax, Bowman continues to salute veterans across the country. The team itself is made up of professional parachute jumpers who have served in the United States Armed Forces, and its goal is to inspire pride.
"There are a lot of veterans, warriors and soldiers all over the country that are giving back each and every day," Bowman said. "We want to salute them - especially our Purple Heart recipients. We thank them each and every day."
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