The Unstoppable Anthony Davis
From Paralysis to Gaiscioch Quarterback,
Anthony Davis Shares His Story
It's not often that you come across an amazingly talented individual who has overcome the most extreme circumstances to shine bright. Anthony Davis is a Navy Veteran, full time father, member of the US National Rowing Team, coach of a little league baseball team, quarterback for the Men's and Co-ed Gaiscioch Football teams. All the while being clinically paralysed.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Anthony to discuss his colorful history, unquestionable passion for athletics, and life after tragedy.
I understand that you were in the Navy
Yeah, I joined out of High School when I was 18. I graduated in 2000 & I was discharged in 2006 after I left the VA Hospital.
I was a AW Rescue Swimmer on 3 Carriers the USS Ronald Reagan, USS John C Stennis and the USS Abraham Lincoln. I was on the Abraham Lincoln when President George W Bush came aboard and did the mission accomplished speech in 2003.
I went to war for 18 months on the USS John C Stennis and the USS Abraham Lincoln
So what made you decide to join the Navy?
I wasn’t going to be able to afford college and my family couldn’t afford it and so it was either the Navy or the Marines. The Navy said I could travel, go places and they would pay for college and so I thought that was the best option.
Plus they told me that I could jump out of helicopters into the ocean and I thought that was pretty awesome.
Did you get to go to school after the Navy?
I got hurt as I was leaving the Navy, so I spent 4 months in the Seattle VA Hospital and when I was discharged from there I was told that I would never walk again. I am 100% disabled, retired Navy – and never supposed to walk again. I broke my spine from T12 to L1 and I am fused from T12 to L3.
For a while after I got out I didn’t really do anything other than try to deal with not having my legs anymore.
I took some classes at Clark College and actually took up Journalism. I wanted to go into the Navy as a photojournalist, but they didn’t have any openings so I could either go in as a Gunner’s Mate or a Rescue Swimmer, so I went as a Rescue Swimmer. But what I actually like is photography and journalism.
I wrote for the Clark College State newspaper, I’ve had three articles published and I made the front cover picture on one of the articles about Handicap Spots.
So I did take some classes, and Journalism was really fun, but I live in pain. And the better I get, and the better get at walking, and the stronger I get, the more pain I have to deal with. So I have a hard time sitting in that position behind a desk because my feet would hurt and I would spasm a lot, so I found school really difficult, and so I haven’t really been back to school.
That’s understandable. Can you tell us about how you got hurt?
I got hurt August 25th 2005 driving on I-5 in California. I was in the back seat sleeping when the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo that I was in rolled 4 times on the freeway and my seat belt broke and I was ejected out the window. I landed on my spine and broke it at T12 to L1, my spine is fused at T10 to L3. I also broke both sides of my rib cage and I can still feel spots where I am missing bone chunk. When I went out the window my shoulder was separated from my collarbone and my sternum popped out about a ¼ inch.
You’ve certainly come a long way since your accident.
Yeah, considering I wasn’t supposed to walk and I can stand and walk, and I can play football, I can play sports. I coach a lot of sports, kid’s sports and so I can be out there throwing a ball with them, hitting and doing all this other stuff with them. It is better than not being able to walk or being in my chair or being in a bed.
I am big into sports and athletics, I like animals a lot too, so If I could work for National Geographic that would be my ideal job. Or Sports Illustrated, that was what I was going for when I came out of High School.
How did you start being able to walk again? What was your inspiration for pushing forward?
My inspirations to walk again were many but the biggest one was my son. My main goal was to be able to stand in the yard and play catch with my son. That motivated me more than anything. The fact that my son could see me and see that you can do anything you want as long as you give it everything you got all the time.
When I started to learn to walk again it was about the same time that my son was learning. I use to watch him walk and watch how his feet moved with his legs and hips, I use to try and imitate what he was doing to teach myself to walk again.
My son is a big part of my life and my journey that I am on. He has motivated me to get to this point and he still motivates me to be even better than I already am.
So you coach Baseball and Football?
I coached Football to start with. After I got hurt I volunteered at the High School that I graduated from. It was good physical therapy just being out on the field walking around, then I found out that I liked coaching and that I was good at it.
I did that for three years and then I went and did adaptive rowing. In July 2011 I took first in the county and ninth in the world in Adaptive Rowing. I stopped coaching to do that, but now that I am not doing the rowing as much anymore I started coaching Baseball.
My son was in little league and I volunteered as a coach, they said I did a good job and the president of the league wanted me to coach with him, so I did and this last year we coached Youth Babe Ruth Team and we took third in regionals.
Wow, that is very impressive.
It was a lot of fun, I love coaching. I have been doing it since I was 24.
And you are how old now?
Tell me more about rowing.
I row with my upper body, I don’t use my legs obviously because I am a paraplegic, but I am an adaptive rower. So adaptive rowing is like a small part of rowing where we only have four categories. In my category there is only one boat that goes to the world championship of the Paralympics.
It’s tough because in order for me to compete internationally or competitively I have to have a female rowing partner and there is not a lot of female rowing partners that fit into my category and that want to compete and train, especially here in the Northwest. If they open my category up so there are more boats or even make it an individual race then I am looking at the Paralympics next year, 2016, that is my goal.
I am really competitive at rowing, but coaching is my passion, it is what I do for fun.
What has kept you going through all of this?
The thought that someday I am going to end up back in my wheelchair, and that my spine is still broken. I am young, which is the reason that I wasn’t more severely injured, even though I am 100% disabled. I was 23 when I got hurt, but they said it could have been worse & I was supposed to die, my youth saved me. I am still young, but someday I am going to be old and I am not going to be able to do all these things. When I get old, I don’t know if I will still be able to walk or have to be in my chair, so I want to go till I can’t go any more.
I think you have to experience waking up in a hospital bed without the use of your legs in order to understand how important it is to be able to use them. It is really hard to explain, but before I got hurt, I had no idea what this was like; I’d never even sat in a wheelchair before.
It is amazing to me just how far you have come. As a nurse, I have seen others in your circumstance and most of them accept their fate, but you didn’t, you moved forward against all odds, and have accomplished great things.
Thank you. I can’t stop. If I stop or sit still, that is when the pain hits me the most, so I just can’t stop.
I feel that people should be able to do accomplish pretty much anything if they can focus everything that they’ve got towards what they want, they should be able to achieve it.
I shouldn’t be able to walk, and I do. I shouldn’t be able to stand on a football field and play football with people that don’t have any disabilities, but I do. I worked really hard.
This is very inspirational. Can I ask what you do for pain management?
For a while I was getting medications from the VA, pain pills, but they are bad. They work to a point, but I have so much pain and so many different types of pain that I can’t take enough pills to get rid of all that. So it came to a point where it was doing more damage than good, so I have stopped taking medications. Instead I do a lot of stretching, a lot of exercise, and I try to eat better.
Did you go through any depression when you were dealing with all of this?
Yes, for the first couple of years it was really difficult to go out as a handicap person. It was hard to hang out with my friends at bars or go places because I always had to take my wheelchair, in crowd of people, sometimes they wouldn’t pay attention and fall over me. So it was one of my goals to not be so dependent on my wheel chair.
So, for a while I was depressed, and then there are still the memories sometimes… I don’t really know.
Tell me about your family life.
I have a son from a previous marriage who is 8, he will be nine next March. His mom and I share custody, but my son lives with me now. Since then, I’ve been happily remarried.
We met at the airport in Portland, I was coming back from a race in Boston and she was coming back from Virginia. We were on the same flight from Chicago to Portland, and I saw her on the airplane, she was sitting up front and I was in the very back of the plane. When we got off in Portland she was waiting at the top of the walkway, and as she started walking I asked her if she lived in Portland and she said no, but I go to school here. So I just walked with her and we talked, then we sat down to wait for my ride to show up and talked some more. I gave her a ride home that day and we have been together ever since.
I have a lot of stories to tell my grandkids.
So what is the next part of the story?
I am going to try to be the fastest male rower in the world. That is another goal in my life and I have to be strong enough to do that by next year.
So how did you get involved with Ben Foley and Gaiscioch?
I signed up with Underdog Sports to play flag football on an independent team. I showed up the first day and there was a bunch of guys just standing around, they didn’t match, but they looked like they were in a huddle talking to each other, so I just walked up and said “Hey, I signed up with this team” and it turned out to be them.
The reason I did it was because it was outside of my box, I needed to do something outside of my comfort zone, so I went out there and said, “Hey, my name is Tony and I can only play quarterback, I am disabled, but I would like to play football.” So they let me play on their team. Ben was their quarterback, but he didn’t have a problem with it, so he became the center, and he is a really good center. We have been playing together now since 2010.
I have gotten so much better physically, playing flag football, better than anything else I have done. I owe a lot to Ben and the fact that he kept me playing football.
What has your experience been like playing football with the Gaiscioch?
The Gaiscioch football team had been a really big important part to my recovery and getting not only physically better but mentally better. Physically being on the football field is great for me and what I want to do in life. Mentally being on the football field with the Gaiscioch team helps me out a lot.
I was diagnosed with PTSD after I spent 18 months at war, and then I got into a car accident on my way home. So my mind is a little different than others, and being on the field with other men who are not disabled and I can not only play on the team but I can compete with them helps me.
We won a tournament against other able bodied mens teams, things like that help me get confidence in myself and show me that I can keep up and what I am doing and all the pain and things I have to fight through are all worth it. Needless to say I plan on playing football until I can't play football anymore.
Looking back can you offer any words of encouragement to anyone who has been knocked down by life?
I don’t know if I have any words of encouragement but I do have things to say. First is that if something in life is hard it probably means it’s worth it.
Don’t ever give up ever.
The little things in life matter.
Happiness is important
And for me most of all “For what it’s worth, it was worth all the while.”
I want to thank you for speaking with me today Tony, it has been a pleasure.
About the Author
Aoibheann (pronounced Ae-veen) is an Irish American Artist.
As a Photographer and Writer her work has been featured in Gaiscoich Magazine, Biker Magazine, Sun City Bikers, Ruidoso News, The Ruidoso Free Press, KEDU Radio, the Society for Creative Anachronism, BetterPhoto.com, Juicy Skin Calendar, as well as various other publications for the U.S. military and her colleges.
When she’s not traveling the world and taking pictures, you can find her interviewing interesting people, writing whimsical stories and articles, gaming in GW2, playing guitar, reading her favorite books, or out dancing in the rain.
Owner of Rogue Photos, you can view her photography work at http://roguephotos.virb.com/