Veteran Rodney Blanton stands on his board on his first try!

Veteran Rodney Blanton stands on his board on his first try!

Editor’s Note: VAntage Point is reporting from the 2014 National Veterans Sports Clinic, Sept. 7-12. This is the second in a series of blogs from the event.

Rodney Blanton was fresh home from a deployment to Afghanistan with the Air National Guard in 2011, when his life was changed by a reckless truck driver. The domino effect of twisted vehicles ended with Rodney and his motorcycle strewn across five lanes of Texas highway.

He said he died twice on the operating table, but somehow was able to pull through. After 12 days in a coma, Rodney woke up to the realization that his left leg had been amputated. However, it wasn’t the fact that something was missing that drove him during the seven months it took to learn to walk again – it was the fact that he was still alive.

“I wasn’t about to give up,” the Houston native said, “so I kept walking to try to get back in shape. After awhile I even started running — even though my prosthetic leg wasn’t made for it. It would always take me a long time, but I had to keep trying.”

Despite his persistence, there was something missing in Rodney’s life. The former tech sergeant had always been involved in sports, especially baseball and basketball, and he felt like his disability was holding him back. That was until he walked into the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and met recreational therapist Jessica Dawson.

“Rodney had already come a long way when he came to VA for the first time,” Jessica said, “but he wasn’t aware of all the opportunities we provide through adaptive sports. He was surprised to find out how much he could do with recreational therapy through VA.”

She introduced him to the Paralympic Sports Club in Houston, and Rodney never looked back. Every week he was trying a new sporting activity, and before Jessica knew it, Rodney became one of the program’s biggest advocates and recruiter of Veteran participants.

“What some people might not understand is that recreational therapy plays a big role at VA when it comes to rehabilitation,” Jessica said. “Not only do the Veterans see physical improvements, it also helps them with mental and social issues too. When you see somebody like Rodney benefit from your work – it just makes you love your job that much more.”

Now, as Rodney attends his first National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic in San Diego, Jessica can’t help but be proud of his accomplishments. She yells out encouragement from La Jolla Beach as Rodney tries surfing for the first time. He waves and beams back a smile. Rodney has found a new sport to be excited about.

“She pushed me to try new things, and now I’m here,” Rodney said in between sets of waves Monday. “If you told me I would be surfing a few years ago, I’d have said you were crazy. I can’t wait to go back and tell my fellow Veterans all about this clinic. It’s the real thing. I think I’ll get myself a surfboard, too.”

To learn more about VA’s Adaptive Sports Program, and the opportunities it provides Veterans with disabilities, visit va.gov/adaptivesports.

For more photos from day two of the National Veterans Sports Clinic, see the gallery below.  Be sure to follow @deptvetaffairs on Instagram for more photos from the event.

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Published on Sep. 9, 2014

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