David Jones continues to defy the doctors who treated him after he was shot in the head during a hunting accident in 1988.
“They didn’t expect me to live, much less resume my active athletic lifestyle,” David says. “I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and being pretty much able to do what I wanted. When I was shot, needless to say it changed my life, but I wasn’t about to just sit back.”
The accident left David with a traumatic brain injury. He had to learn to talk again, walk again and feed himself.
Today, he not only pursues his athletic life, he has turned his near-death experience into a life of inspiring others with disabilities to participate in their former activities and even learn new ones.
David admits to struggling with the realization he was partially paralyzed.
“I almost gave up, but then I realized that I was alive,” says the Tallahassee native. “I have never really been angry or resentful about what happened. It actually made me understand that any life I had to live was bonus time. I could have died out there in the woods.”
Life Beyond a Disability
After spending three months in the hospital and doing extensive rehabilitation, David regained limited use of his left arm, and he still walks with a limp.
He spent a year in a wheelchair, then went back to college at Florida State University. He earned a degree in marketing while undergoing physical therapy to improve his condition.
He says his wife, Lynn, and family and friends who believed in him and supported me, saved his life—along with therapeutic recreation, “which became my focus for recovery.”
“As I continued my rehab, I told my therapist that I wanted to get back to my active lifestyle and even had him write a treatment plan so that I could work out at the gym. I knew that I could use sports to regain my lifestyle,” David says.
In 1990, David founded Florida Disabled Outdoors Association with the goal of showing people of all ages and all abilities—including those with TBIs, physical, cognitive and emotional disabilities—that they can live full lives.
That was right around the time then-President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
“The ADA has raised awareness about people with disabilities, but there is still more progress to be made,” David says. “What we’re doing goes beyond simple ADA compliance by creating and supporting opportunities for accessible and barrier-free outdoor recreation programs. Partnerships across public, government and private organizations over the past three decades, especially here in Florida, have opened many doors.”
Powered By Partnerships
In the early 1990s, FDOA worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create and host the country’s first federal mobility-impaired hunt program at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
“This really opened the door for state and federal partnerships on public lands,” David says. “In the past three decades, we’ve worked with so many organizations to provide sports, recreation and leisure opportunities for people with disabilities.”
David has tapped into his experience and accomplishments, training managers in national recreation and parks programs about accessibility and barrier-free outdoor recreation. He consults with attractions, events and hotels about physical accessibility issues.
His service on the boards of directors of such organizations as the National Therapeutic Recreation Society and the National Recreation and Parks Association has further raised awareness about disabilities and how groups can provide more leisure, recreation and adventure opportunities.
David works with companies to develop adaptive aids and equipment for people with disabilities. He is working with various partners to introduce an all-terrain mobility device rental program in Florida to help people with limited mobility further enjoy the outdoors.
Making a Miracle
Tallahassee is home to Miracle Sports, opened in 2008, two years after David watched a Miracle League baseball game in St. Petersburg. With the help of the Tallahassee Kiwanis, the city of Tallahassee and Leon County, the community built a Miracle Field at James Messer Sports Complex. The rubberized field ensures full accessibility for players as well as a safe surface for inclusive sports participation.
People of all ages and abilities use the Miracle Field facility for baseball, kickball and tennis. The facility is the opening-day venue for Tallahassee’s SportsAbility—an event founded 29 years ago by FDOA to promote active living, firsthand access to activities, and resources to encourage participation in sports and recreation.
“This is really our signature program, and it continues to grow year after year,” David says. “We now have SportsAbility multiple-day, multiple sports events across the state, with an average attendance of 1,000 in Tallahassee and more than 10,000 in Orlando.”
Sports include waterskiing, scuba diving, martial arts, tennis, golf, boat rides, biking, rock climbing, archery, horseback riding and other activities.
“Anyone and everyone can participate, and we’ve incorporated adaptive equipment so that no matter the person’s ability, they can take part,” David says. “It’s open to able-bodied and people with disabilities of all ages. We encourage families to come together to experience hands-on recreation.”
A vendor fair and educational booths complement the community sports events.
An Assortment of Adventures
The statewide ALLOUT Adventure Program offers more than 20 hunting and boating events throughout the year for people with certified mobility impairments.
In partnership with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, FDOA helped develop guidelines and parameters for safe hunts.
Hands Helping Anglers, another FDOA initiative, sponsors fishing events. Many are events for veterans and their families.
FDOA also provides outreach, education and information about accessible facilities and attractions in Florida, all with the aim of reaching people with disabilities and helping them live the life they desire. It serves both providers of recreational series and consumers.
“I certainly didn’t choose this life, but I have made it my purpose in life to help others learn that through perseverance and determination, they can overcome obstacles and disabilities,” David says. “Not a day goes by that I don’t see the look of accomplishment and joy on the face of someone who has learned to stretch their boundaries.
“People with disabilities live in every demographic, race, religion and age group. And in many ways, we are all the same, whether we walk or roll. We all want to enjoy our lives and be healthy and happy. Recreation and sports are the key to achieving our potential.” .
Access for People With Disabilities? No Problem at Some Attractions
In addition to an accessible zipline, wheelchair accessibility is provided on the Gatorland Express Train Ride. In areas inaccessible to wheelchairs—such as a sand pit where patrons can get close to the gators—accommodations are made by bringing the animals to patrons for an up-close encounter.
www.gatorland.com, 407-855-5496, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
Everglades National Park
Mobility, sight and hearing accessibility is offered on paved trails, camping, boat tours and assistive learning devices.
www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm, 305-242-7700, 40001 State Road 9336, Homestead
Kennedy Space Center
The center offers tour buses with lifts; special entrance to, adaptive seating and transfer assistance for its Shuttle Launch Experience; and a guide with sensory advisories and additional information to assist those on the autism spectrum.
www.kennedyspacecenter.com/info/accessibility, 321-449-4443. Space Center Way, Kennedy Space Center
The Wheel at Icon Park
This attraction accommodates wheelchairs 36 inches wide or less in enclosed capsules/cars. Assistance also is provided to transfer guests to a seat inside the capsule.
https://iconparkorlando.com, 407-601-7907, 8375 International Drive, Orlando
Some Florida beaches rent or loan beach wheelchairs, provide mobility synthetic sand mats or have wooden boardwalks.
For more information about Florida Disabled Outdoors Association, to become a sponsor, donor, community partner, volunteer or participant, visit www.fdoa.org or call 850-201-2944.