Freedom in Flight: Inspiration from above

Clayton Coates, Editor

Two Golden Knights lunged out of the airplane, just as they had more than 50 times before. As the two rapidly descended towards the earth, the smoke identifying their trail displayed their opposing lines of colored smoke, entertainment for the crowds below. Then, both Knights turned 180 degrees and began to fly towards each other creating a Diamond Track formation, reaching speeds of between 100-150 miles per hour rocketing them towards one another…until the collision.

On Feb. 6, 1994, Sgt. First Class (Ret.) Dana Bowman and his teammate Sgt. Jose Aguillon collided mid-air, which resulted in the death of Sgt. Aguillon, and Sgt. First Class Bowman sustaining a double amputation, one leg above the knee and one leg below the knee. Since this horrific accident, Bowman has become the first double-amputee in American history to reenlist in the military. Bowman has continued to accumulate more than 4,000 jumps and has given more than 400 motivational speeches around the United States, using every moment as an opportunity to inspire others to overcome adversity in their lives.

“Now we’re looking to set a world record performing 50 jumps, in 50 states, in 50 days,” Bowman said. “It’s a way we can acknowledge our veterans and make an impact in the community.”

On weekdays, Bowman will be skydiving onto school campuses to speak with students; Saturdays will be dedicated to large events or local veteran community outreach programs, and Sundays will be dedicated to jumping into and speaking at church gatherings, earning the tour’s name For God and Country.

“Tragedies and accidents can bring new hope,” Bowman said. “If a guy with no legs can be a commercial pilot and jump from planes, imagine what you can do.”

On the weekend of Jan. 24, Bowman was invited to be the guest speaker at Anthems’ Military Camp, hosted by Achieve Tahoe. During the event, Bowman reconnected with his first ski coach following his amputation, Mike Miltner.

“I met him in 1995 at a Disabled American Veterans winter sports clinic at Crested Butte, Colorado,” Miltner said. “He sure is motivated. He wanted to learn and master skiing with his prosthetics.”

Typically, someone with his type of disability is taught within the four-tracking discipline, which is standing up with his prosthetics in ski boots and using two Canadian crutch-style outriggers, making four tracks in the snow.

“Dana brought a 40-foot American flag that we unfurled and skied down Gold Coast with,” Miltner said. “It was pretty cool seeing that flag descend down the hill with all the instructors on its perimeter.”

Bowman is a testament to what can be accomplished when life inevitably meets adversity. You can either allow these adversities to control your thoughts and actions or use them to propel you into something extravagant.

“We all have our own disabilities; yours just might be all the things you think you can’t do,” Bowman said.