Davis Celestine enlisted in the Navy in 1998. In 2001 he was injured in a training accident while preparing to serve a tour in Afghanistan. “After my accident, I woke up on a hospital bed with several doctors around me,” he said. “At first I thought it was a dream until I came to the reality that I was not in a dream.”
Celestine couldn’t move and couldn’t speak. His doctor informed him that he had spinal cord damage at the C-6 level and most likely was never going to walk again.
When he showed up at Tampa’s James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, he was paralyzed from the neck down and still couldn’t communicate. The road to recovery would be long and arduous. Eventually, though, Celestine could speak, and he started to regain use of his biceps, triceps, fingers. His recovery was slow but his therapist, Jennifer Day, continued working with him and could see his drive, his competitive spirit. Activity was going to be an important aspect of his recovery.
Today Celestine is president of the Florida Gulf Coast Paralyzed Veterans of America chapter. In that role he was awarded the opportunity to bring the torch into the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games Opening Ceremonies, a moment he said he would never forget. He’s also become a solid wheelchair athlete, competing this year in quad rugby, handcycling and weightlifting. In a normal year he would probably do more, but this year he also acts, in a sense, as host of these Tampa Games.
“We’ve been planning the Games for at least a couple of years,” Celestine said. “Normally, as a player you can just compete in your events and enjoy it, but this year it’s a bit different since it is in Tampa.” He gives appreciation to Jeanene LeSure, a recreation therapist at Haley who chairs the Local Organizing Committee. “She’s been meticulous,” he said, deflecting praise for himself. “She’s shown great leadership.”
Having attended six Wheelchair Games, Celestine said showing up now is more like a family reunion. “It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood,” he said. “We are all happy to see each other again. We can relate to each other. We understand each other’s stories. It’s a pleasure being with these people each year.”
For anyone who has suffered a catastrophic injury, Celestine said the key is to get involved. “It’s great for you to be part of a new environment,” he said, “but you can also come out and be an inspiration to someone else. You can look around you and see people in your same situation—and some people worse off than you. Come on out. Give it a try. You might be an influence yourself.
“I actually wanted to excel,” he added. “I wanted to make a difference.” And, he noted, that in the process, “It is a learning experience, and you’re never too old to stop learning.”
Read more about the 33rd National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Tampa
Tim W. Jackson is a freelance writer and editor in Asheville, N.C.