News General Case Studies 03.21.23
David Whelan is an accomplished para triathlete, currently ranked ninth in the country. He is also the U.S. Team Captain for the largest triathlon team in the country, Team Zoot Para Athletes Sports, and serves as a chairmember for Bridge Adaptive. In addition, David is an ambassador for Fillauer Companies and the 998 initiatives, and partners with various organizations that promote and educate others about adaptive sports.
For many, it would be a dream to achieve what David has accomplished. For David, getting to where he is today, started with a dream and quickly turned into a nightmare that took him on a journey that required an unbreakable spirit, unbreakable determination, and unbreakable commitment.
Over a decade ago, David was attending school to become a paramedic firefighter. He fell in love with the drills that forced him to dig deep and push himself to the limit. His mindset of “how far can I push it” led him to endurance sports where the pain of training and the challenge of winning became therapeutic and a passion that burns deeps within him. David had no idea how important that strong mindset would become over the next ten years of his life. In 2012, David was in a work accident that crushed his foot. Despite multiple surgeries, his foot was unrepairable, and the pain was unbearable. Years later, David was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) which is the worst chronic pain condition known to medical science. The pain started in his foot and continued to spread higher and higher into his leg and other parts of his body. After six years of dealing with extreme pain, doctors convinced David he could be pain-free with the amputation of his leg.
With high hopes he could return to his love of endurance sports, David agreed to the surgery. To his extreme disappointment, the surgery created additional pain and left David unable to wear a prosthetic device for the next two years. For months, David’s determination and grit transitioned to depression and hopelessness. He eventually realized that to live a happy life again he needed to use his passion for sports and started competing in adaptive cross-fit and spartan races with the assistance of an IWalk. “I knew, no matter how hard it was, I just needed to show up.” In 2019 David showed up for a race and met a veteran who had lost his leg and was diagnosed with the same pain syndrome David was suffering from. He told David about a doctor in Oklahoma who may be able to help. The doctor confirmed that David’s case was one of the worst he has ever seen. In relentless pursuit of what sets his heart on fire, David decided to have surgery again, hoping this time he would once again be able to run. The surgery would include the Ertl Procedure to stabilize the bottom of his limb and targeted muscle reinnervation surgery to remap the nerves in his leg. During the same week as his surgery, the unimaginable happened – COVID-19 shutdowns. Due to David’s critical condition, he was forced to leave the hospital to avoid contracting the virus and spent the next several months recovering with no professional medical help. With the support of his girlfriend and family, David turned to his unbreakable resilience and dug deep to fight his way through recovery. “I went outside every day and watched walkers and runners as they passed by to help me remember the feeling of taking steps. I didn’t want to forget what it felt like to walk or run.” On July 3, 2020, David was able to experience that feeling, as he took his first steps without assistance and without pain. The following July he ran for the first time – pain-free – and didn’t stop for 4 miles. “I knew I should stop, but I didn’t want that feeling to end.”
I’m an athlete first and I’m adaptive second. My life goal is to help people find therapy in recreational sports.David Whelan
The power of networking and movement has taught David the importance of helping others realize what is possible. “My selfish dream is to be a professional athlete; I want to be taken seriously as an athlete. I’m an athlete first and I’m adaptive second. My life goal is to help people find therapy in recreational sports.” Originally from L.A. David has been involved in Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and other adaptive clinics. When he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio he quickly realized that the Midwest had very little opportunity for adaptive athletes. To help create awareness surrounding adaptive sports, David partnered with Bridge Adaptive, whose mission is to create a community where people, regardless of ability, can fully participate in competitive and leisure activities. Together David and Bridge Adaptive have been working closely with race directors of the Flying Pig Marathon, a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, to be a resource for education and planning. This year is the 25th anniversary of the marathon and the first year they will have an adaptive category. To help create excitement and involvement within the adaptive community, David hosted a running and cycling clinic that included participation from Fillauer Companies, R.J. Rosenburg Orthopedic Lab, Hoka, and Fleet Feet. Certified prosthetists helping with the event, fit many of the participants with running blades while David coached them on best practices for adaptive running with the hope that they will join him on May 7th to be the first adaptive athletes to run the Flying Pig.
As the U.S. Team Captain for Zoot Para Athletes Sports, David will be promoting his belief that “movement is medicine” to as many cities as possible. “It’s time to have real conversations and create educational opportunities that help others understand how to become an adaptive racer and how to work with race organizers in becoming inclusive to all.”
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