By Matt Petrero
We here at Purpose 2 Play get to cross paths with some truly amazing people. And every time I think I have written an article whereby the human experience and determination could not get any more incredulous, I learn that I can never sell the next story short. That leads me to this story that will be hard to top.
Hawaiian Damon Boiser is a guy who loves his home and revels in the bounty of natural wonders that the Aloha State has to offer. Growing up in the 50th State, Damon spent his days surfing, diving, swimming, and anything else a nature’s wonderland, such as Hawaii provides.
According to an article on Midweek.com, Boiser was also an aspiring musician, having auditioned for the band, Limp Bizkit. In high school, he wanted to play guitar for the band so that he could work his way into the heart of the Material Girl, Madonna.
All of Damon’s aspirations could have, and for all intents and purposes, should have come to an abrupt halt. In 2003, Damon went diving with a buddy near Queen’s Bath outside of Kona. He was not familiar with the formation of the rocks in this location. After his friend made a few attempts, Damon decided to give it a go. I asked him about that day and as I was soon to find out, Boiser showed no reluctance in his candor.
“It was just about ten years,” Damon said. “I was standing at the edge of the water on a bunch of rocks, not a high jump or anything. It was one of those days where the surf was kind of high with foamy waters; so you can’t really see into the water. I was jumping with a buddy and he jumped three times ahead of me. It was my first time at that location and I jumped. I didn’t realize that where he was jumping there was a trench, where there’s room to dive. I jumped to the side of it and when the foamy water cleared, there was this rock underneath the water. I smacked my head on it. It split the top of my head open and crushed my C6 vertebra. Then I was floating in the water.”
An aside: Damon clarified that it was nothing like Steven Segall movies. It doesn’t hurt at all.
“When a wave rolled me over, that’s when I called out to my friend and said, ‘I need some help!” Damon continued, “It’s funny because there was so much blood in the water that he thought a shark was attacking me.”
He needed to assure his buddy that he did, in fact, require help.
Having an understanding that an accident such as this understandably demoralizes some people, I asked him the obvious question about whether he thought about giving up on his passion for sports (extreme or otherwise).
“For me, I could never admit to any of it because when my dad came into the ER room, when I was getting my body put back together, his eyes looked so concerned that I knew right there that I could never let my guard down,” Damon said.
It was then he assured his father that everything was going to be okay. He said, “Dad, I’m gonna have a great life…I’m gonna be a rock star!”
“I’m gonna have maids that are going to make my bed and wash my clothes,” Damon said.
He found it counter-intuitive and a bummer to let his friends and family know when he was having a rough day; he just kept it to himself.
“Before you know it, you don’t even think about it…every day is just so awesome!”
A shy guy prior to the injury, Damon realized that in order to help make life after paralysis as awesome as he thought it could be, he had to gain a sense of humor and break out of his shell.
“When you get injured, you have to learn how to talk, be funny, and get better at people skills,” Damon said. “It really helped me blossom as a person.”
Witty is one thing that was evident during this interview.
“I tell everybody that I don’t want to walk again otherwise I’ll just be normal, like you,” Damon said.
Do other people pity Damon? Do they seem uncomfortable?
“Comedy and attitude really help a lot to disarm a situation because people will look at you and pity you,” Damon said. “It’s a different situation, especially when you have lifelong friends who, for twenty years, are used to seeing you walking and running. And then you run into people again…you gotta let them know that life is great.”
Damon spent almost ten years in rehabs and foster homes. It was during that time that he honed his positivity, people skills, and keeping moments loose and comfortable. So once Damon got his own attitude and perspective on life in order, and learned how to make others around him comfortable, it was time to make good on his promise to his father. It was time to make life better and become a rock star.
Dropping from the Sky
It wasn’t until after that accident and rehab that Damon started skydiving. Oh, I didn’t spell it out earlier in the article? Well yes, my keyboard didn’t stutter. It was a couple of years ago, about ten years after the accident, that he tandem-jumped for the first time. And to put an exclamation point on the feat, the instructor, “Papa Dopp” Richard Dopplemeyer of Skydive Hawaii, landed Damon right in his wheelchair from 14,000 feet. They became the first tandem in the world to ever accomplish such a thing.
“That showed me that despite everything, I can do an extreme sport that most people are scared to do” said the future Olympian.
Did I catch you off guard again? Yes, Olympian!!! Well sort of. He is not competing in any events, as of yet. Inspired by his first tandem jump and brimming with self-confidence, Damon has set his sights on becoming the first quadriplegic to parachute solo from an airplane.
“My goal is, I want to be the first quadriplegic in the world to skydive solo so recently I reached out to Live Unbound and they have a grant, a Dream Enablers program. I applied for it and I won their contest. So now, we’re putting it together.”
Damon has given himself three years to prepare for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. If he is able to successfully master the solo jump, he will earn sponsorship from Squirrel Wingsuits. That itself seemed unlikely as there were doubts on the part of a company representative.
“I told him, ‘I am the best in the world, I will do this,” Damon said.
It was that kind of attitude that changed the minds of the folks at Squirrel Wingsuits.
The Sky’s the Limit
Skydiving is not the only improbable achievement for this driven, Flyin’ Hawaiian (all deference to Shane Victorino). On November 1st, 2013, Damon became the first and only wheelchair athlete in Hawaii to rappel down a skyscraper as part of the Over the Edge fundraiser for Special Olympics. Rappelling down a 31 story building in Waikiki was amazing, but the $150,000 raised for the Special Olympics of Hawaii was just as big.
Since the completion of his rehab, Damon has also dabbled in surfing and various other sports. None more impressive than his creation of a new division in Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation that allows disabled athletes to compete.
Damon recently found himself back in the water as well. He competed in Duke’s Oceanfest and took second place in the Challenged Athlete division on a specially designed board for quadriplegics.
Then there is the escapades in the shark cage. Yes, shark cage, of which he advised me that he had done just two days prior to the interview.
Being a native Hawaiian and having only participated in warm weather and water sports, the Coloradan in me took hold and I had to gauge his interest in winter sports.
“Oh my God, I am so interested! I wanna try skiing. And I really want to introduce kite-sledding!” Damon emphatically explained. He went on to explain that it would be similar to wind-surfing and he and a board designer are working on the idea.
Since his accident, Damon has put a lot of time and effort into advocacy work.
“I like to do all of these sports to get a lot of flash and attention, but then I like to do a lot of advocating,” Damon said. “So I work out with a lot of developers, Medicare, Medicaid. I try to suggest, push, and influence them.”
Damon advocates on behalf of those bound to wheelchairs to get a little more money for durable medical equipment so others confined to wheelchairs are not so confined. This would be additional funds for higher quality chairs and parts. Damon realizes that not all those in wheelchairs are wired like he is. They are not willing to take the risks that he takes and live life to the fullest. As such, they don’t have the opportunities to be sponsored and provided equipment pro bono.
“I have all custom made wheelchairs,” Damon said. “If you can give them better parts, they can have an easier life and they could be much more productive. I remember before I got sponsored by Mogo Wheelchairs, I would ride the state wheelchairs that they give you and it’s all the low end stuff. But I qualified for a grant…and they donated a pair of really high-performance wheels…and that allowed me the strength to get through grass and sand. I was able to get to job interviews and I got way more productive in my life.”
“I was trying to point out to the medical developers that you’re looking at it the wrong way,” Damon said. “If you give people just a little bit better equipment, they would be more acclimated to go out and get a job. And they get off Medicare and Medicaid and become contributors to society, tax payers” Damon quipped with logic.
Damon even proposed a model of the kind of wheelchair that would accomplish this objective. He was met with skepticism as the officials were concerned that some would defraud Medicare and Medicaid to try and qualify for the more expensive chair. Damon was a step ahead and suggested that they must prove that the pricier chair will be used for productivity instead of just personal convenience. The futility of dealing with burocracies is not lost on him either.
“I’ll probably bark up a tree for twenty years and maybe my kids will get somewhere with it.”
When I asked Damon about his marital/family status, he answered with that typical wit, “Single…I’m a playa!”
Damon’s exploits in sports and advocacy work, along with networking on social media has landed him the sponsorship with Mogo Wheelchairs out of Australia. The action wheelchair manufacturer has been making high performance chairs since 1981. Mogo is one of the world leaders in the field and many of their wheelchairs can be found all throughout Paralympic competitions. So the marriage of Mogo and Damon Boiser was one made in heaven.
Sending his Message
Then there is Damon’s motivational and keynote speaking exploits. He speaks at local high schools at the behest of friends and for the Forte Speakers of Hawaii. This is something that he really gets a kick out of.
“I really connect well with the kids,” Damon said. “Afterward, they all want a hug and to hang out. We all become friends, and now I have high school kids doing a report on me as their hero. It’s not about me, but when kids are looking to disabled people as their hero, that is quite a change.”
Does the accident become the focal point of his speeches? Damon doesn’t have have any of it.
“I really even don’t touch on my injury all that much. That way, it doesn’t get people to think too much about the disability. They’ll get all wrapped up in the sad story and it takes on a different perspective.”
When the subject came up of slowing down and stepping back from participating in sports, Damon really didn’t know what that timetable will be.
“I love checking out other guys out there doing (sports), but I know that there are some big ones that I got out there that I still want to achieve. I don’t know what my limit’s going to be,” Damon said. “Once I can learn to skydive solo, then I want to be the first quad to wingsuit. Then I really want to go to Brazil and fly under the hand of God” he said referring to the Crist the Redeemer statue.
Throughout my conversation with Damon, there was absolutely nothing that that presented itself as a boundary. Once he is done conquering all there is for him to on earth, he has his sights set on the moon.
“I keep sending letters to Richard Branson, because he’s getting all into his Virgin Galactic, so I’m buggin’ him,” Damon said. “I want him to put me on the lunar surface so I can be the first wheelchair to transfer from earth to lunar surface.”
Perhaps Damon’s greatest aspiration and future vision for himself is one of life’s most simple pleasures.
“The future for me that I would want is to be married and have a son and watch my son prosper…that would just smash everything I’ve ever done.”
I found it hard to understand something that Damon said to me early in our conversation in relation to his accident and subsequent paralysis.
“It’s kind of a real blessing in disguise,” Damon said. “It just takes perspective to see that.”
That seems to align perfectly with his mantra: “With drive and passion for life, anything is possible!”
One thing I found easy to understand from our conversation is how a 45 minute talk can seem like 15. By the time I hung up the phone, I felt as if we were old friends. I felt totally comfortable in asking him anything and after the conversation, I was in as good of a mood as I had in a while.
To see more of Damon’s incredible exploits, check out his YouTube page.
If you would like to donate to Damon Boiser’s quest to become the first quadriplegic to skydive solo, please go to the I Do It For Her website. This is truly one of the most amazing people I have ever spoken with and would love to see him accomplish this feat.