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Speaker inspires group at children's hospital

Army skydiver discusses life without friend, legs after his parachuting accident

Dana Bowman, who lost his legs in a skydiving accident, told a crowd of children and adults to focus on their abilities during a presentation at the Carrie Tingly Hospital Wednesday.

Children gazed at Bowman as he knelt to introduce himself to the group of about 20 who gathered to hear his speech. They stared at his titanium legs, which emerged from the bottom of his cargo shorts.

In 1994, Bowman, a member of the U.S. Army's Golden Knight Parachute Team, was practicing a parachuting maneuver called the diamond track, in which he and a partner were supposed to create a smoke diamond in the sky. During an accidental mid-air collision, Bowman severed his legs and his partner died.

"I lost my best friend on that day - my life changed forever," he said to the audience after showing bloody footage of the accident. "But I wasn't ready to give up."

Bowman explained that therapists and social workers helped him to adjust to his new life and prosthetic legs.

"I had to substitute those human legs," he said slowly to the audience. "I had to learn to walk all over again."

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In the video, Bowman put prosthetic leg in front of prosthetic leg to get across a balance beam.

"This wasn't easy," he said. "Life isn't easy. It takes practice. Take time to learn - that's what we want to do."

Bowman said that five months after his accident, he made his first parachuting jump and became the first double-amputee to re-enlist into the Army. Since his accident, he said he has made more than 600 skydiving jumps.

He admitted to the audience that he sometimes falls when he lands.

"But what do you do when you fall down?" he asked.

"You get back up," a young voice said.

Sandia High School student Alex Cleland, 15, said that he saw Bowman speak at the Hoffmantown Church this summer.

"He inspired me to come again," he said.

Cleland, whose leg is stapled and in a brace from cancer, uses crutches to walk. He said Bowman is his role model.

"He never quits what he's doing and I'm never going to quit what I'm good at," he said.

Alan Hill, who makes medical braces for children at Carrie Tingley Hospital, said Bowman is a great role model for children.

"I think it's really good for the kids to see real successes from people who have problems," he said.

Hill, who has worked at the hospital for more than six years, said his patients often inspire him.

"They develop a positive outlook by overcoming situations," he said.

Bowman showed footage of his snow and water skiing trips and flying helicopters and added that he flys hot-air balloons and planes.

After his speech, he held up his thumbs and posed for a picture with some children.

"I expect to get e-mails from you guys," Bowman said.

He also discussed support networks and the Dana Bowman Limb Bank Foundation, a nonprofit organization that collects new and used prosthetic limbs to distribute to those who need them.

For more information on Bowman or the foundation, visit his Web site at www.danabowman.com.

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