David Fowler says his desire to become involved with Paralyzed Veterans of America sprang from gratitude for the assistance he was given. More than 20 years later, he’s made the leap from paying it back to paying it forward. The national vice president and Texas Chapter president has devoted his life to helping veterans who have sustained a spinal cord injury or disease.
A promising military career leads to catastrophic injury.
After graduating from high school, Fowler worked in the construction industry, but wanted “to do something more with [his] life.” He enlisted in the Army, where he became a paratrooper with the famed 82nd Airborne Division. In 1984, he was involved in a diving accident that left him a C4–5 quadriplegic.
David’s only thought at the time was, “What am I going to do now?” He was rushed to a Memphis hospital where he remained in the Intensive Care Unit until he had recovered sufficiently to be transferred to the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas. As he completed rehab, he experienced a gauntlet of emotions, which he would go on to see others experience after a paralyzing injury.
“It was like everybody else. You get angry, you get depressed, you get bitter, and you slowly grow to accept it,” he said.
Before the ADA, David faced physical challenges everywhere.
However, Fowler faced new challenges when he returned home. “Before the [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] was passed, the world outside wasn’t very welcoming.”
Before the [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] was passed, the world outside wasn’t very welcoming.
The ADA’s passage, in which Paralyzed Veterans played an instrumental role, ensured that all individuals with disabilities would be given equal rights and opportunities. “[Going] to a movie without being told that I was a fire hazard, being able to go into the front door of a restaurant [and] being able to go back to work” are just some of the many benefits that he experienced. “It was like the world was finally welcoming us,” he said.
Participating in adaptive sports exposed Fowler to another facet of this expanded world. It took six years for him to be convinced to attend the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in 1991. He thought that the Games “wasn’t for [him]” but discovered that with the help of adaptive equipment, he could bowl better than he could before he was injured. In the 20 years since, he has never missed the annual event and continues to compete in the power soccer, slalom, wheelchair races, and power relay events.
Paying it forward.
After attending his first Games, Fowler was seized with thoughts of, “If I can do this, what else can I do?” He thought, “How can I pay back this organization that is improving my life?”
Even though the responsibilities come with a lot of trials and tribulations, the reward is great when you realize that you made an impact on someone’s life.
He became involved in the Texas Chapter, where he served as president for several years. Fowler then became a national director, and finally felt like he had something to contribute on a national level. At the urging of many, and with the support of his wife, Marilou, he was elected as Paralyzed Veterans’ national vice president in October 2011. He called that experience “very rewarding” and described his work with Paralyzed Veterans’ chapters “great.”
“Even though the responsibilities come with a lot of trials and tribulations, the reward is great when you realize that you made an impact on someone’s life,” he said. “I’m paying it forward for the next guys coming behind us, just like the people 27 years ago did for me.”
Note: David Fowler passed away February 18, 2014. We at Paralyzed Veterans of America are greatly saddened by his loss.