EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — When a career-ending injury halted then-Staff Sgt. Daniel Crane’s promising military career, he almost gave in to the anger and depression that threatened to overtake him.
In 2012, Crane, assigned to the 736th Security Forces Squadron in Guam, had just completed a three-day security mission. The night after, he spent some off-duty time at a friend’s house and was leaving when a life-altering incident occurred.
“I was in my car when I was approached by a local resident with a shotgun,” the now-retired law enforcer said. “He shot me in my upper right arm, which pretty much destroyed everything in my bicep — nerves, bone, arteries, veins, everything.”
Crane said it was the most helpless feeling he’d ever had.
“I didn’t even have the chance to defend myself,” he said.
Through several surgeries, part of his arm was saved, but his hand no longer worked. He would later have it removed above the elbow.
Crane, who joined the Air Force in 2006, was retired after just six years. The experience left him deeply depressed, angry and disillusioned.
“I didn’t like that my military career was over,” said Crane, originally from San Angelo, Texas. “I had planned to have a 20-plus year career in the Air Force, like my father, who served for 30 years. After everything I worked so hard for was taken away from me, I felt like I had nothing to hold on to.”
During his recovery and rehabilitation, Crane was approached with the idea of participating in the military adaptive sports program.
“I said ‘no’ several times. I was still dealing with what happened to me,” he said. “Finally, I decided to attend my first adaptive sports camp.”
He said his experience at the 2014 Air Force Trials in Las Vegas was the first step towards emerging from his despair.
“I saw numerous people, who had arm amputations and other injuries worse than mine,” the former Airman said. “I saw they were still doing everything, even with their prosthetics. That started my recovery. That helped me make the decision to have my hand amputated.”
At the trials, Crane discovered interests in archery and shooting. “Those events got me hooked,” he said. “That’s when I started embracing the adaptive sports.”
He hasn’t looked back since.
He competed at the 2014 Warrior Games at Colorado Springs, Colorado, and the first Invictus Games, held in London. Those games saw more than 400 active-duty and veterans from 13 nations compete across nine adaptive sports.
Crane met Prince Harry at the archery event there. During this meeting, he found a new purpose for living and a new way to serve his country.
“Me and a handful of other Wounded Warriors participated in an archery demonstration for Prince Harry,” he said. “At the time, we didn’t know we were going to get the Inspirational Award, presented by Prince Harry himself. Receiving that award changed my entire perspective from having a lot of hate, to starting my own recovery. It started the mending of my broken heart.”
From a Wounded Warrior mentor-athlete perspective, Crane said he’s seen the introductory adaptive sports camps become more organized, overall. The new Wounded Warriors coming in are putting forth more effort and better coaches and people are now participating, he added.
However, the biggest change Crane has seen is within himself.
He said the military adaptive sports program has given him a new reason for living. The former Air Force protector is now motivated to encourage and inspire other Wounded Warriors. In turn, he draws inspiration from them.
“These games have given me a new purpose in my life,” Crane said. “Through the games, I still get to serve my fellow Wounded Warriors. Helping them in their journey to recovery also helps me. The people I help are now my priority. It may not have been my true calling before, but I feel it is now.”
Crane plans to compete in archery and shooting at this year’s Warrior Games in June.