Inspiring vet finds those who inspire

Former 82nd Airborne sergeant lost a leg but never gave up an active lifestyle. But then he saw how those with more serious injuries pursued their athleticism.

LAURINBURG, N.C. – Frankie C. Davis lost a leg in 1980. The amputation didn’t stop him from continuing a long interest in tae kwon do as well as other strenuous activities.

Inspiring stuff, right? But recently, Davis himself was deeply moved by the courage and drive of current and former military as they pursued sports.

Davis will compete May 19-21 in the 2015 Valor Games Southeast, the first of a series of Valor Games that will take place around the nation. The aim of the Games is to draw current and former military members who are disabled into sports, as a link to community involvement. The Southeast Games is hosted by Bridge II Sports, a Triangle nonprofit that provides athletic opportunities for adults and children with physical disabilities.

His journey to inspiration wasn’t easy.

A doctor at Veterans Administration Hospital in Durham had been pushing Davis to get involved in sports programs there, and the former U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne and supply sergeant finally relented. He started going to events where he competed against other military veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.

“When I went to Pennsylvania for archery, there were a few guys there who had no arms, and they were shooting archery,” Davis said, marveling. “They shot it with their mouths! And that really blew my mind. And they were shooting just as good as somebody who was shooting with their arms.”

Davis joined the U.S. Army in 1976, and served in Germany and Fort Bragg. At Bragg, he was unit supply sergeant for a tank division with the 82nd Airborne. In high school, he had excelled in gymnastics. He had begun a lifelong love for the martial arts, starting with karate in 10th grade and eventually gaining his black belt in tae kwon do during his tour in Germany.

While on Thanksgiving leave from Bragg in 1980, Davis got into an argument with a man, who followed him out of the house and shot him with a 12-gauge shotgun. Five days later, while still hospitalized, Davis’ mother noticed that his right leg was changing color. His company commander visited him, and helped him get transferred immediately to Womack Army Hospital. Doctors there quickly recognized the problem: Gangrene had set in. The leg had to be amputated.

Transferred again to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C., Davis was given the chance to return to athletics, and he jumped right in – literally. The hospital had a pool. It had a gym. He took advantage of both.

He never abandoned the self-discipline of tae kwon do. But it was always for himself, and he never fought competitively again. Otherwise, his life returned to normal. He finished college. He took a job in Richmond, Va., as a prosthetics rep and later later transferred to range control at Fort Bragg, N.C., as a target device repairman. His three children were born and grew up. In 2003, Davis hurt his back, which required surgery in 2008. That caused a change in his amputated leg, which sent him to the amputee clinic. That’s where he met the doctor who pushed him to become more competitive athletically.

“My doctor in Durham, he knows I’m very athletic. He tried for two years to get me into it. I thought, ‘They ain’t doing anything. It’ll just be a waste of my time.’ In May of last year, I told him I would try it. I’ve been hooked ever since,” he said.

“I was amazed people have different problems and how they’re dealing with their problems. I was amazed at what people could do with no arms, no legs.” He watched the men and women who shot arrows with their mouths. “There were guys there who were paralyzed, and they were [weight] lifting 400 pounds. You cannot underestimate anyone.

“It helped me dealing with my depression, and it helps me keep my weight down, which helps me deal with my prosthesis. And then I find that no matter what your condition is, Inspiring vet finds those who inspire saw how those with more serious injuries pursued their athleticism. they have the equipment to do what you want to do. You learn about different prosthetics, different equipment on the market, to better what you want to do.”

He’s still disciplined. When not competing in VA events, “I’m training all week. I do water aerobics from 9:30 to about 10:30, I might work out about another 2 hours. I do my martial arts in the water. I do weight training Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”

And Davis will compete in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh in May in the Valor Games Southeast, in such Paralympic events as air rifle, indoor rowing, shot put, archery and sitting volleyball. Research shows that such involvement helps injured people heal. Competitors have a wide range of disabilities, from amputations to spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and visual disabilities.

Entry to the Games is free. For more information, visit bridge2sports.org, or call Bridge II Sports at 866-880-2742.