David Collins was 20 years old when he lost his vision serving in the U.S. military. “The first thing my rehab instructor told me was that it wasn’t safe for me to walk alone outside my home,” Collins said. “That was when it really hit me… that my life had changed.”
Collins remembers taking a guided walk during this time through town, where an organization was selling tickets for a 10k run the following day. “A woman told me that if I purchased a bib, she’d make sure I got there safely and could participate.” He ran that 10k the next day, and fell in love with the confidence and clarity that the race brought. “Blindness turned me into a marathon runner,” he says.
He has since held a long and illustrious adaptive sports career, and now almost 58, has no plans of slowing down. For the past two years, David has been competitively training in Nordic Skiing at camps all across the country. “Disabled Sports USA and other organizations are teaching veterans how to be active and competitive, even with their new injuries. I wish I could describe how much that exercise can help.”
And exercise, he does. Collins first learned to alpine and Nordic ski in 1988 with an organization called Ski for Light in Colorado. “Up until that time, all of the blind people that I met were from World War II or Vietnam – elderly folks who were just learning basic living skills. Learning to ski, I got to meet a lot of independent, active, and athletic blind people. I felt that I had found my community.”
After learning to ski, Collins immersed himself in adaptive sport and training across the board. “I like to try new sports,” he says. “My whole life I’ve always had a go at trying new things all the time. My goal is to try every sport at least once.” His drive for exercise and adventure has pushed him to experience truly incredible things, from scuba diving to jumping out of a helicopter to earning a bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Paralympics for rowing. He recalls the 1996 Games with a particular fondness.
“That was truly the most incredible experience of my life. Being surrounded by athletes from all different countries, and all competing with different disabilities – it was just amazing to be in the Olympic village with all of those people.” With his sights now set on competitive Nordic skiing, his goal is to compete at the national level and continue getting faster every year. “The great thing about camps is that you have the opportunity to try new events, have new adventures, and meet new people. And between these experiences you’re motivated to stay in shape – because when you arrive, you’re going to meet people who have opportunities for you.”
When he isn’t training, competing, or cycling for fun, Collins is passionate about sharing the power of adaptive sports with other veterans. “When you’re exercising,” he says, “all of a sudden – your pains go away, your sight of the future becomes bright and clear. You’re chipping away at the future instead of dwelling on the past.” Collins believes that if even one new veteran or athlete can have this experience at an adaptive sports camp, then the entire event will have been well worth it.