Yesterday marked the start of the first-ever Invictus Games, an international sporting competition for wounded warriors taking place at Olympic Stadium in London, England.
And in the first day of competition, Felton, Del., resident Nicholas Dadgostar showed off the power of Team USA, winning a silver medal in the men’s 200 meters, competing against other athletes with single or double amputations below the knee. He also finished fourth in the 100 meters.
“So, not a bad day,” Dadgostar, a retired Air Force staff sergeant, posted on Facebook along with a photo of his medal.
More than 400 athletes from 14 countries – including 98 from the United States – are competing in nine Paralympic-like events, including swimming, track and field, seated volleyball, wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby.
The competition, which runs through Sunday, has drawn accolades from around the globe. It was organized by Great Britain’s own Prince Harry, who has said he hopes to make the event an international version of the Wounded Warrior games held in the U.S.
It’s a surreal experience for Dadgostar, whose right leg was amputated below the knee following an accident in 2009 while on active duty in the Air Force. In addition to competing in track and field, he also is playing on the seated volleyball team.
“I’m ecstatic to be part of this. Everybody told me at the time, all the doctors, they said, ‘Don’t expect anything,’” said Dadgostar, 32. “I can do everything I did before.”
Dadgostar and his fellow competitors represent an elite group – athletes who have not only served their country, but have recovered from some pretty traumatic injuries and now are competing on an international level.
Given that, it’s fitting that “Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered.”
Dadgostar was snorkeling in the Virgin Islands when he was struck by the propeller of a commercial fishing boat. At the time, he lost 12 centimeters from his right tibia, although a doctor was able to save his left foot. After attempts to regrow bone on his right leg didn’t bring the results he had hoped for, he made the decision to have an amputation in 2011.
Dadgostar was active prior to his accident, and he didn’t want that to change just because he used a prosthesis.So earlier this year, he decided to try out for the Wounded Warrior games.
He wasn’t a runner, but he started training with Delaware State University track coach Kevin Braunskill, also a veteran himself. With Braunskill’s help, Dadgostar trimmed more than two seconds off his 100 meter sprint.
“With the running, I kept wanting to do it, but then it grew into a passion for it,” said Dadgostar, who has three prostheses he uses for running, depending on the length he’s covering on the track. “I really love it.”
He also found support from the University of Delaware, thanks to Yes U Can USA, a non-profit organization that promotes adaptive recreation and sporting activities for people with mobility issues. Yes U Can USA is a designated Paralympic Sport Club and one of its goals is to help people with physical challenges get involved with competitive sports.
“They took time out of their practice to help me, and it really did make a difference,” Dadgostar said. “That was something they didn’t have to do.”
Today’s win is Dadgostar’s first medal, but it likely won’t be his last. His sitting volleyball team already defeated Germany, Denmark and Georgia, and will be playing in the medal games on Sunday.
After that, it’s a short break before heading out to the Warrior Games later this month in Colorado Springs, Colo. He is only one of 10 American players to be selected for both games.
Long-term, he hopes to secure a spot on the US Paralympic team. Until then, he hopes his training and success will continue to educate others about what people with limb loss can achieve.
“A lot of people stare when they see me. I think it’s still a taboo subject,” he said of his prosthetic leg. “A lot of kids are very curious. I love it when they come up and ask. Sometimes, they say, ‘Hey you inspire me’ or ‘You look really good out there.’ I welcome it and answer any questions that I can.”