April 10th, 2019 | Published in Amputee Stories Old
Challenge: Something that by its nature or character serves as a call to battle, contest, or special effort.
Meeting a challenge head on was Dave Stevens’ goal when he planned his first skydiving jump nearly four years ago. Dave, who became a below-the-knee amputee in 1980 as a result of a motorcycle accident, is an adventurer.
“The first jump was to challenge myself,” Dave said. “Immediately, I was hooked. On my first day, I jumped six times! After the sixth, they sent me home.”
Dave immediately enrolled in a skydiving course and one month later, he earned his license. He has been jumping ever since. With more than 3,500 jumps logged already (and 1,200 his first year!), he now holds a United States Parachuting Association (USPA) D License and is an instructor for other skydivers.
Requirements for holding that license are rigorous. The regulations require that Dave have completed 500 jumps, including accumulating at least three hours of controlled freefall time, made two night jumps (one solo and one in a group) with a freefall of at least 20 seconds, and have passed a written exam conducted by the USPA. But for him, it was worth it.
“Of course, I was scared the first time,” Dave admits. “But the dive is really the most amazing sensation ever. You don’t feel like you’re falling quickly because the plane is already traveling 100 miles per hour before you even jump. Relative to the time it takes for the fall, the acceleration rate is very slow. So actual descending is very relaxing for me.”
Besides individual jumps, Dave is also a member of a four-way (four person)formation team. The group jumps from a plane at 10,500 feet and in 45 seconds completes as many ‘formations’ in the air as possible. A videographer with a camera jumps with them and videotapes the group in formation. They are then judged on the execution of and the number of completed formations during the freefall.
Being an amputee has never slowed Dave down. He admits, “I was just 21 when the accident occurred. For more than five years, I didn’t even wear a prosthesis because the ones I tried were very uncomfortable. So, I just hopped.
“I finally went to a doctor who listened to me when I expressed my concerns. After some tests and a final surgery, the pain in my residual limb was gone and I started wearing a prosthesis full time,” he said. “I had no problem adjusting to wearing one.”
And skydiving isn’t Dave’s only adventurous activity, he also scuba dives and has explored many of the world’s underwater reefs. His favorites are located in the Caribbean and off the coasts of Central America. He also plays racquetball and is a casual jogger.
Besides his wife, Dave is accompanied on his adventures by his custom-made prostheses, which are fit and fabricated by his Muilenburg prosthetist, Stan Vydrzal, CP.
Stan and Dave have a great working relationship. “Dave’s been an amputee for 30 years. He knows what works for him and what features of his prosthesis need upgrading when new technology is available,” Stan said. “When its time to develop something new for him, we spend a lot of time together going over exactly what would be best for him. Then I go forward and fabricate his prosthesis using the most up-to-date components available to meet his high energy lifestyle.”
Stan has fabricated two prostheses for Dave, who prefers a hard socket and one ply sock secured with a strap and belt mechanism. This gives Dave the right fit, level of comfort, and security he needs in his active life. He also wears various foot components for each of his high-action activities.
“Dave’s running foot is an Ossur Flex-Run™. His walking foot is a Freedom Renegade, and he wears an Activeankle with his swimming foot so he can adjust the angle of the foot to the leg and wear swim fins underwater,” Stan explained. “His leg features a Ferrier Coupler, a two-part system that enables us to fit various feet to the same leg so he can participate in all these activities without having to change his prosthesis entirely.”
“Dave is really fun to work with,” Stan added. “He always wants to try something new.”
“Stan is a very skilled prosthetist and working with him and Muilenburg has been fantastic,” Dave said. “He really listens to me!”
When Dave is not jumping out of airplanes or swimming in the world’s oceans, he works in Houston as senior vice president of distribution operations for The Men’s Wearhouse. He also spends time at area hospitals meeting young and recent amputees.
“I like to show them there’s nothing you can’t do if you really, truly want to!” he said.