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Born On: September 29, 1978
Hometown: Wright, Wyoming
Resides: Colorado Springs, CO
Education: Auburn University '02
From a downhill incident to an uphill battle, Dave Denniston has learned the importance of Mind over Body and in doing so has developed a more meaningful purpose for his life.
A World Championship Team member and NCAA Champion, Denniston was renowned as one of the top breaststrokers in the country. At the 2004 Olympic Trials, he nearly punched a ticket to Athens, but fell just short. Devastated about not achieving his dream, Denniston took some time off to consider his next step in life.
An avid outdoorsman, Denniston and a childhood friend made a trip to the family cabin in Wyoming in the late winter of 2005. On the second day, a sledding adventure quickly turned nightmare as Denniston’s sled slid out of control and sent him towards a tree. Turning his head from the impact, the swimmers’ back struck the tree. Coughing up blood and unable to feel his legs, Denniston was left stranded in the cold while his friend searched for help.
While his friend ran two miles to get cell service, Denniston desperately tried to stay awake for fear of internal bleeding. After a two-hour wait, medical staff showed up. Once at the hospital Denniston endured a three hour surgery, where they fused together his vertebrae. He had a bruised and swollen spinal cord and a broken back.
While Denniston’s body had changed it was quickly easy to see that his spirit had not. Known to joke with the healthcare professionals, Denniston still showed the sense of humor that made him such a popular captain for the Auburn University swim team. Within a week of the incident, over 1,000 e-mails filled his inbox, he had so many visitors he was given a private room, former arch-rival University of Georgia Swim Team sent flowers.
The outpouring of support from the community inspired Denniston to get back in the pool. Swimming was regularly incorporated into his rehab and soon his former coach, the late Jimi Flowers, was talking to him about the quadrennial event. No longer able to use his legs in the pool, Dave had to adapt to a new swimming style, which takes twice as many strokes to get across the pool. In April 2008, Dave qualified for the Paralympic Games in the 100m breaststroke and went to Beijing as the captain of the swim team.
Outside of swimming, Denniston has found value in giving back to the community. Still a master of the breaststroke, Dave teaches youth swimming clinics around the country. In 2006, he developed a fundraiser entitled Relay Across America, which brings swimmers from around the country together to raise money for the National Transplant Assistant Fund, which helps provide financial support for people looking to receive a transplant. As part of the Team for Tomorrow, he and other Olympic and Paralympic athletes work closely with the Habitat for Humanity. The swim team captain also serves as a U.S. Paralympic Mentor for young athletes.
Winner of the 2007 NCAA Inspiration Award, Denniston has had his story covered by NBC, Sports Illustrated and The Denver Post. When not training for the Paralympics Games, he travels the country as a motivational speaker, a task he was well prepared for seeing as he graduated from Auburn with a degree in communications. The Paralympians’ story resonates closely with students. He has presented to Auburn University, Kansas University and University of California-Berkeley, among other schools.
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