Double amputee Inspiring Many In Big Country, Around U.S.
As Dana Bowman descended toward the field at Robert Nail Memorial Stadium in Albany, it was just another day of work.
Seconds after leaping out of a Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter, Bowman deployed a parachute with a giant American flag dangling at his side. With just nine minutes before kickoff of Albany’s Week 10 game against undefeated Santo, every spectator rose to their feet as Bowman landed on the playing surface. “It’s all about giving back,” Bowman said.
This was one of more than 5,000 jumps for the retired Army sergeant first class, who parachutes into sporting events, conferences, rallies and other events.
Bowman’s story is unlike any other. In Golden Knights training in Yuma, Arizona, in 1994, Bowman collided with his teammate, Sgt. Jose Aguillon, at a combined speed of 300 mph.
Aguillon died immediately. Bowman was rushed to a hospital three hours away in Phoenix, where medical professionals stopped bleeding and treated his wounds. He lost both legs.
But this tragedy didn’t hold down Bowman for long: He re-enlisted in the military nine months later. He became the first double amputee to do so.
He retired from service in 1996. Since then, Bowman has used his story as an inspiration for others with disabilities. In addition to the thousands of events he has parachuted into, Bowman also has delivered hundreds of speeches. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” Bowman said.
Two main goals
Bowman resides in Weatherford. There, he runs a nonprofit, HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation, and owns a Japanese restaurant that serves ostrich, duck and exotic types of sushi. Bowman juggles these duties with his professional skydiving career, which has taken him everywhere.
He has parachuted on both coasts and pretty much everywhere in between. Bowman said some of his favorite places to jump include Sturgis, South Dakota; Cody, Wyoming, and Red Lodge, Montana, as well as several places in Texas.
Every time Bowman jumps or delivers a speech, he has two primary goals. One of those is obvious. “Just being able to come back and show people my disabilities are not disabilities,” Bowman said. “Obviously life is a challenge, but there are so many people who can help you.”
The other relates to the flag that flies behind him every time he jumps. Bowman said he has seen patriotism decline the past couple of decades. The retiree believes the overall success of the country goes hand in hand with its level of patriotism.
As someone with a heroic story and lengthy background serving in the United States military, Bowman uses his jumps and speeches to help revive pride. “We’ve lost a lot of that,” Bowman said. “To be able to jump in, I hope to bring the American flag and bring patriotism back. If we don’t keep the patriotism going, we’re going to continue to go downhill.”
Said Albany High School Principal Glen Hill, said: “We play the national anthem every game, and it kind of loses its significance, but this is a great reminder why we have football games and our freedoms.”
Big Country jumps
Some of Bowman’s most recent landings have been at Big Country sporting events. He jumped into Tarleton State’s homecoming football game Oct. 23, where the Texans won 17-14 over Midwestern State. For that one, Bowman landed between a section of Tarleton State’s marching band.
“It blew them away,” Bowman said. “They could not believe it.” A week later, he jumped at Albany’s 33-6 win over Santo on Oct. 29. It was Bowman’s second time jumping in Albany.
Dana Bowman salutes the crowd in Albany after landing on the Lions' home field before their game against Santo.
Jacey Shack, a fellow veteran and the pilot for several of Bowman’s jumps, is an Albany resident and one of Bowman’s closest friends. Shack is the owner of the Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter that Bowman leapt from, landing on Faith Field.
“It’s very moving,” Shack said. “As someone who has served in the military, it is very inspiring for me.”
It made a big game even bigger
Bowman’s most recent jump at Albany came on an important day for the football team. The Lions and their Week 10 opponent, Santo, entered the game with undefeated records. Bragging rights and the District 8-2A Division II championship were on the line.
Albany sailed to a 27-point win on the team’s senior night. “What a great way to start a Texas high school football game,” Albany head coach Denney Faith said. “To have the American flag parachuted in by an American hero and hear the national anthem is an inspiration to all country-loving Americans.”
Hill added, “It made the game that much more special, which is saying something when you win a district championship. For someone to come all the way out here, definitely made them feel special.”
Bowman is humble. He said he doesn’t know if his pregame landing made any difference to Albany’s success that night. But the fact that he has the ability to even inspire people of various ages in various professions across the country makes Bowman believe he has accomplished his mission every time he descends from thousands of feet above the ground.
“I just try to show people what they can do,” Bowman said. “If you come in with an existing problem, you’ll leave with an existing problem, but you can’t hold yourself at bay just because of what happened before.”