Do It For Dan: Part Two

By: Eric Eckstrom Email
By: Eric Eckstrom Email

Two and a half billion seconds: the approximate sum of the average american life. It only took one, however, to transform 15-year-old Daniel McNamee from a young, promising athlete, into a quadriplegic.

“The main thing i remember is just kind of falling to the ground and pretty much just feeling numb. numb all over,” said Dan McNamee.

“I was pretty sure what i just saw and i just stood there for a couple of seconds thinking just get up,” said Mike Martin, Dan’s Physical Therapist.

You couldn't hear a pin drop in this place. Dan looked like he was shot,” said Dave Cisar, former football coach at Magnolia high school.

It was 18 years ago, yet the intensity of that evening still seems to burn in the memories of those who were there.

“It was really devastating. I mean we won by I don't know how many touchdowns and the locker room was just kids crying,” Martin said.

Suddenly Dan was comforted with circumstances it’s hard to imagine anyone, much less a 15-year-old boy up against. His body, previously a perfectly tuned instrument, was now broken. Within a few hours of the accident, he was airlifted to Pittsburgh for spinal surgery and three months of rehabilitation. Dan says his darkest hour came on his 16th birthday, which was his first time in public since the injury.

“I thought that I should be getting my license; I should have been driving; I shouldn't be in a rehab facility. I shouldn't be in a wheelchair at the time. I probably had a good 10 to 15 minute cry and I was back at it, so I was good,” Dan said.

10 to 15 minutes. Barley one-fourth of an hour really, and Dan says the time for self pity was done. Thus began something no one saw coming. He may have lost the ability to walk, but Dan was stepping into an identity that would become local legend, beginning just a few short weeks after the injury, when he returned to high school.

“What happened was - and this is pre-social media days - the community had become so enthralled with just how Dan was doing,” said Jeff Toquinto, a journalist who followed Dan’s story after the accident.

And from that enthrallment, emerged four words that spread like a brush fire.

“We pretty much set the season on Doin’ it for Dan,” said Dan Lindsey, one of Dan McNamee’s teammates back in 1995.

It was coined by a member of the student council.

“A slogan, Do It For Dan, and it encompassed all things: Doin' it for Dan to win at sports; Doin' it for Dan to raise money,” Toquinto said.

And in just a short period of time, thousands were donated to help the McNamee’s to build a new home to accommodate Dan’s needs.

“Do it for Dan t-shirts that almost seemed like they were out there the next day,” said Travis Jones, the play-by-play announcer for Bridgeport High School at the time.

“You know from the school system to people at mom and dad’s church, everywhere, really,” said Chris McNamee, Dan McNamee’s brother.

And as time went on, it was clear to everyone that something more profound was beginning to emerge.

“This thing transcended everything,” Toquinto said.

“And I can remember four [and] five years after that, people wearing those shirts,” Jones said.

“It wasn't about sports, it was about a young man, and everyone knew that,” Toquinto said.

“We just can't really fathom how it's all happened, but we are all very appreciative of it,” said Dan’s Mother, Carolyn McNamee, when she was interviewed back in 1995.

Folks say more than anything else, it was Dan’s courage and tenacious attitude that made his story so captivating.

“As far as being afraid of anything? No. As far as feeling sorry for himself? Never. He maximized what was left as far as his function and his strength,” Martin said.

In the following years he would earn two degrees at Marshall University and have a successful career in the business management and finance industry. And on October 3, 2009, Dan married the love of his life, Nikki. The community of Bridgeport never stopped watching.

“Dan was never forgotten in this community,” Jones said.

“And the way he has lived his life since then, it really sets an example for everybody,” Martin said.

“Doin' it for Dan was Dan doing it for himself and because he did it for himself he did this amazing thing for everyone else,” Toquinto said.

But for all its inspiration, 18-years-later, this journey is still incomplete. Today Dan is beginning the next, and possibly, most significant part of this story, starting at the source where it all began...

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