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Why a life-changing disability doesn’t have to disable your life

Overview

Published: 12/02/2011

by Chris Gallagher

Photos

At The Advocator Group, we can alleviate the financial stress of a debilitating disability by securing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits for our claimants. But that's only part of the challenge that someone with a disability faces. We are hoping that stories of inspiration can help disabled individuals overcome some of those challenges and allow them to return to living a full life.

Kirk Bauer lost his leg to a hand grenade in the Vietnam War and for the past 41 years, he's dedicated his life to inspiring others to pick up the pieces and make the most of their lives after a disability. Through his work as the executive director of Disabled Sports USA, Kirk uses competitive sports to show people that disability isn't the end, but rather the beginning of a great new chapter in life.

Disabled Sports USA is a national nonprofit organization that provides disabled Americans with the opportunity to develop physical independence through sports, recreation, and education.

Kirk had his first experience with the organization when he returned from the battlefield in 1969. It had just been founded two years earlier by a group of other Vietnam and World War II veterans. At the time, the small group of organizers could only offer instruction on skiing to other veterans who were returning from war with life-changing disabilities.

"When I came back I had one leg, I had shrapnel in me, and it took seven operations and six months for them to put me back together again," says Bauer. "I was faced with what many of these young men and women [returning from Iraq and Afghanistan] are faced with now. I didn't know who I was anymore."

In the hospital, Kirk was approached by fellow veterans who recommended that he try working with the organization they had started, Disabled Sports USA. He started skiing and noticed immediate benefits from the exercise.

Slowly, his post-war depression and feelings of loneliness began to let up. He continued to train, and went on to win medal after medal throughout the 1970s.

"It was an absolute turnaround from living in a slow-motion world to being able to rocket down a mountain. In a couple of days, I was making turns. It was just like a transformation," Bauer says.

After flying down that first hill, Kirk never looked back. He became a certified ski instructor and offered his free time to showing others what he had learned. He spent 12 years as a volunteer before stepping up to become Disabled Sports USA's executive director.

Under Kirk's management, the organization has grown to span the nation. Today, it offers activities to over 60,000 veteran and civilian participants with a multitude of impairments. Kirk has been continually honored both nationally and internationally for his leadership skills and academic prowess. He's collected a staggering amount of awards -- the list is too long to recite here -- that you can read about in his full bio.

When it comes to motivation, Kirk is just one of thousands of Disabled Sports USA's success stories. So we're kicking off a series of interviews with some of the most awe-inspiring people that have not allowed their disability to slow down their life. Instead, they've used their disability as a catalyst for bigger and better things.