TAMPA - Just months away from deploying to Afghanistan in 2001, Davis Celestine only remembers waking up in a hospital room, unable to move.
"'You're not going to be able to walk again," Celestine remembers his doctor saying. "But miracles happen everyday.'"
His spinal cord severed during military training. Unable to even talk, Celestine showed up at James Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, paralyzed from the neck down.
"Other than his contagious smile, he wasn't able to communicate with us," explained his therapist, Jennifer Day.
Still, Day noticed Celestine's competitive drive, even when learning simple tasks like using his mouth to lace shoes. She introduced him to adaptive sports, like wheelchair racing. Eleven years later, Celestine can swim.
He's one of 600 disabled or wounded veterans who will compete in the 33rd Veterans Wheelchair Games, which will be hosted by Tampa Bay in 2013. It's the largest competition of its kind in the world.
Sunday, he and others will show off their skills for spectators at an adaptive water skiing event at Lake Seminole Park at 10015 Park Blvd from 8am to 4pm.
Adaptive sports are a growing tool for therapists working with wounded veterans, because of the goal-oriented drive that brought them to the military in the first place.
Celestine was able to regain use of his biceps and triceps, as well as some of his fingers.
"Because I actually wanted to excel. I wanted to make a difference," Celestine said. "If he kicked my butt a year ago, I'm going to go home and train as hard as I can."
Unlike a more traditional clinical rehab model, adaptive sports give veterans a fun way to recover, even if the final results are much more than winning a game.
"Staying away from the hospital," Day said. "It helps you with not getting any secondary complications like bed sores."
Considering that just 11 years ago Celestine couldn't even move his mouth, he says his doctor was right. Miracles do happen, but he admits, the real miracle isn't his 25 medals, it's what he's now able to be for others.
"A motivator, an inspiration to others to move forward and enjoy the little bit of life that you have for what you can make of it," Celestine said.
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