After having his leg mangled in a car accident in 1983, U.S. Navy Veteran Dave Nelson Jr. had to adapt his bowling style to make up for not being able to slide on his damaged left leg.
“As a right-handed bowler, you’re supposed to slide on your left leg,” Nelson said. “ I taught myself to slide on my right leg. It worked for me. I’ve got 17 300s and three 800s. You do what you can with what you have.”
After numerous surgeries, Nelson had the leg amputated in 1996. That wasn’t so bad, Nelson said. The pain from his leg was gone, and he still slid on his right leg when he bowled. In 1999, he had to have his leg amputated above the knee. That, he said, made a huge difference.
During the National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Omaha in 2008, Nelson was introduced to wheelchair sports. He competed in bowling, handcycling, shot put, discus and swimming.
He continued to adapt his bowling style, and now competes in about eight wheelchair bowling tournaments a year.
He is on the boards of the Omaha Bowling Association and the American Wheelchair Bowling Association. Besides riding 20 to 50 miles a day four or five days a week on trails around Omaha, he also competes in handcycling races across the country.
For Veterans who may be thinking about trying out adaptive sports, Nelson said, “get in there and do it.” He suggested Veterans contact the Paralyzed Veterans of America to find out more about adaptive sports.
“There’s something for everybody,” Nelson said. “They’ve just got an array of sports you might not be aware of until you get in there and talk to someone. Just don’t sit at home; that sucks. You can only watch TiVo shows for so long.”
Nelson has coached high school wrestling and plans to get back into that after moving this summer. He would also like to see more opportunities for area youth to participate in adaptive sports. It is expensive, Nelson said, but there are programs to help. Nelson gets his care and prosthetics through the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System Prosthetics and Sensory Aid Service.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people at races who aren’t Veterans, and we’ve really got a lot of help while they don’t,” Nelson said. “We’re lucky to have it. Without (VA) I wouldn’t have that leg. I’d have some rickety wheelchair because I wouldn’t be able to afford a prosthetic.”
Another goal of Nelson’s is to bring a national wheelchair bowling tournament to Omaha in the next few years.
“There are a lot of people who are really good at the sport and just really enthusiastic about it who aren’t even Veterans,” he said. “But out of all of them, probably 60 percent of them are Veterans so that’s kind of neat.”
Veterans interested in learning more about adaptive sports including rugby, volleyball, handcycling, sled hockey, softball and other sports, can contact: