Bilateral Amputee is active in multiple sports

Veterans Golden Age Games – Alaska – June 5-10


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A Veteran who can inspire – Honor, Valor, Sacrifice

Dave Nichols (pictured above – left) has been a bilateral amputee for nearly half a century. He’s fluid in his walk, with full range of motion in his knees, although his legs were blown off below the knee in a landmine explosion during his tour in Vietnam in 1970.

At the same time, the Army veteran feels it is unfair for him to tell other amputees how to live their lives, especially if he doesn’t fully understand their physical and emotional challenges. But if he did give advice to a fellow disabled Vet, he would say there are many adaptive programs they can take advantage of to stay active.

“After years of being like this, I look at my disability more like a job,” Nichols says. “I take the emotional aspect out of it. You want to do the best job you can. It’s a job with no vacation. It’s about being innovative. It’s about adapting to equipment or keeping yourself in shape, making sure you work out.

“The biggest thing is the living room couch. If you don’t get off the couch, you’re done. Once you get out and about, you find that people will look at you as just another person. They’re going to look at you as somebody out there doing your best. People sometimes are afraid to approach you. But with a little nonverbal communication, you keep a smile on your face. Don’t walk around like you don’t want to talk to anybody.”

Nichols has been incredibly active. He’s been an avid golfer, a skier and ski instructor, and a boxing coach who has sparred. He recently took up pickleball, which includes elements of tennis, table tennis, and badminton.


Walking on the beach

A year-round special events competitor, Nichols at VA’s Summer Sports Clinic


He’s looking forward to participating in the VA 2019 National Veterans Golden Age Games, June 5-10 in Anchorage, Alaska. At 69 years old, he’ll be competing in golf, pickleball, badminton, and the javelin throw. He’s taken part in the Golden Age Games for nearly a decade and has won medals in golf and javelin.

“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Nichols says. “I like to compete. But more than anything, I like the social interaction. I want to get out there and do my very best. Being an amputee motivates me a little bit. But if I don’t win, I’m not upset. At my age, I’m just lucky I’m out there doing it.”

In 1970, Army private first-class Nichols was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade as it cleared out an enemy base camp in the Central Highlands region of Vietnam when enemy fighters detonated a landmine. The explosion left Nichols with what he describes as an “out-of-body experience.”

Men in uniform

Nichols in Vietnam

“One second, you’re walking and talking to infantrymen and you feel confident,” explains Nichols, who received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. “The next thing, you’re on the ground without any feet. You feel like, `What now?’ It’s like you have to create a whole new image of yourself. You don’t know who you are anymore.”

Nichols spent nine months in the hospital. Having suffered no nerve or muscle damage in his knees in the explosion, he was able to retain a lot of his balance and the ability to climb ramps and stairs.

“I’ve been walking with prosthetics now for 48 years,” he says. “I’m ambulatory. I don’t have a wheelchair or anything like that.”

Today, Nichols is in great shape at 5 feet 9 inches, and 150 pounds. A resident of Stone Ridge, New York, he golfs in the Eastern Amputee Golf Association. He’s up to about a 14 handicap, after once being between an eight and nine. He chalks up the decline to not playing much recently because of his involvement with other sports like skiing.

He skis in Windham, New York, and teaches people with disabilities how to ski.

With a wife, three kids, and three grandchildren, he finds that life has been good to him.

“There are days when I get up and go, `It’s going to be a rough day,’” he says. “But normally everything is fine. I’m going all day. I’ve been very fortunate because my disability is manageable.”

Author

Michael Richman

Mike Richman is a writer and editor in VA’s Office of Research and Development. He joined VA in 2016. He previously worked at the Voice of America, one of the U.S.-funded broadcast agencies.

Comments

  1. Kelly M Ross    

    Dear Sir or Ma’am,

    May need a wheelchair for an amputee here who is on crutches…only see him about once a week for supper…

    1. Kelly M Ross    

      I haven’t seen if he has a prosthetic leg.

  2. Victor Sellers    

    I’d love to trade bodies with Mr. Nichols. I lost my lungs over, my heart, my respiratory system, my gastrointestinal system, genitourinary system, contracted a Tropical Disease, a blood disease with undetermined organisms, brain damage from a stroke at 19 years old, prostate pain and enlargement, brain lesions, a 100% blocked inoperable carotid artery, pain behind the eyes from the Tropical Disease, developed Atopic Dermatitis which I never had before, a form of acne (Chloracne), peripheral neuropathy, kidney damage, liver damage, heat intolerance with skin disease to name a few and to top it all off the Army and then the V.A. withheld all my medical records to keep me from being service connected in any way. When I should have been medically retired, I was refused all medical care and any compension. The V.A. admitted Agent Orange Exposure in 1983 because I was “Boots on Ground”, but denied the herbicides caused any damage or medical problems. I requested my medical records in 1971 or 72 and 30 more times over the years. I got only some in 2015, and still refused many of them. Mr. Nichols was lucky he wasn’t refused medical treatment after RVN!

  3. Wayne Renardson    

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