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Sky High: Skydiver brings lofty message to PISD students
It’s not the disability, it’s the ability.
That was the message of avid skydiver Dana Bowman to Plano ISD students in the AVID program Thursday afternoon -- a message he shared after he dove from a helicopter 4,500 feet in the air above the students waiting patiently below at Chase Oaks Church.
It’s a message Bowman embodies even more after he lost both his legs in a skydiving accident in 1994.
Bowman is a retired Sergeant First Class with the U.S. Army, a Special Forces Soldier and a member of the U.S. Army’s elite parachute team, the Golden Knights. It is with the Golden Knights that Bowman would receive his injuries.
While practicing a maneuver where two skydivers cross close to one another at speeds reaching 300 m.p.h., Bowman and partner Sgt. Jose Aguillon collided.
The force killed Aguillon instantly and sheared off Bowman’s legs, one above the knee and the other below.
“There was no hope after the tragedy,” Bowman said. “There was a lot of negativity surrounding my disability. I just wanted these people to give me a chance.”
Bowman would eventually get his chance after seven months of rehabilitation when he returned to the skies for another jump. Two months after that he would become the first double amputee to reenlist into the U.S. Army. He would then spend his days spreading the message that no matter what people think a person can or cannot do, it is up to that person to decide.
“As he came in and started talking he really touched me. I was crying the entire time with his video; I didn’t expect to be this empowering,” said Cindy Owalah, a senior at Plano Senior High School and AVID student. “He made me want to inspire people and carry that message forward. He showed me that I could do more than him; I could do more to push myself and I could be better.”
A student doing better is a message that is reinforced by AVID, said Kristin Anderson. the district’s AVID coordinator. The program is a college preparatory system meant to push those students in the middle academically. The program is on 16 campuses.
Students have to apply to get in and go through interviews. Anderson said once they are in the program, students are required to sign up for a rigorous course load to prepare them for college.
Along the way the students are shown tools that will help them progress, from note taking, class tutorials and leadership training. Anderson said speakers like Bowman are real treats for the students after all the hard work they put in.
“It is always nice for them to see the kind of support they have across the district,” She said. “And it is always good for them to see leaders and motivational speakers to keep them inspired.”
Gustavo Martinez, a Plano East Senior High School senior in AVID said it was the program that inspired him. He said the support that the program provides for each of the classes is so complete, the program becomes like a second family.
“I was headed down the wrong path,” he said. “But now I am clear on the road to success. (AVID) has completely changed my life.”
For Bowman, students taking charge of their future is one of the key points to his speeches. He said he wants the students to understand that they always have a choice on how to deal with a situation, and it is up to them to decide whether they are going to hold themselves back from accomplishing their goals.
“It is about giving back, I want to share my story with (students) so I can continue giving back,” Bowman said. “We have a choice in our life, and you are setting yourself up in the right direction with AVID.”
Jassy Gill, an eighth-grade AVID student at Murphy Middle School, said it was appropriate that such an important message came from someone who not moments before jumped out of a helicopter.
“You just need to keep trying,” Gill said. “The sky is the limit.”