By Richard Rhinehart
Grand Junction, Colorado, October 10, 2013 – Veteran Duane Wagner may have lost his legs below the knee during a 1967 guerilla attack in a small Vietnam village, but he doesn’t believe he is disabled.
“I have no disabilities – I just have two inconveniences,” explains the Mesa, Arizona athlete, who rides 300 miles a week on his bicycle. “I wear glasses and I have artificial legs. When people see an amputee, they feel sorry or pity the poor ‘crippled’ person. I don’t want any pity because I am not disabled. I walk like any other person – the only time I become an amputee is when I wear shorts.”
Undertaking the physical, emotional and strategic difficulties of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ annual Adventure TEAM Challenge in western Colorado, Wagner competed in the three-stage, back country event with four other athletes, including longtime friend Jim Collins.
“My team mates were fantastic, we all worked together as a team to accomplish our goal,” recalled Collins, an Akron, Ohio lumber store manager. “Duane was our captain. He guided us from start to finish, encouraging us.” Joining Collins and Wagner was Rick Marion of Delta, Colorado, Herb Neihuss of Broomfield, Colorado, and Molly Etters, of sponsor Timberline Tours.
Participating in his first Challenge, Collins is a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange during his service. He also suffers from PTSD. “I came to the event only knowing one person and left knowing many; we will be friends for a lifetime,” Collins said.
“I have done a lot of other things, but the Challenge was the most fun and challenging of them all because there were so many different things to do,” said Wagner of the annual event. Held in scenic McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction, the 2013 Adventure TEAM Challenge included athletes from across the United States. “It was hard work, but it was fun, because you had to rely on your teammates to help you through the challenges.”
Enlisting in the Marine Corps following high school, Wagner was selected for a Combination Action Company in Vietnam. “We lived in a village to protect the people and perform medical treatment,” Wagner explained. “I lived in the village for six months before we were overrun.”
One of 10,000 amputees from service in the Vietnam War, Wagner returned to the United States where he learned to walk with his prosthetic legs. Following his hospital release, he earned a Ph.D. at Akron University and worked for several national corporations. Wagner also continued to be active in sports, including bicycle racing with the US Cycling Federation, where he won national and world titles in track racing. Other sports activities included Taekwondo, in which he earned a Black Belt.
“I walk, run, rappel from cliffs, drive a standard transmission car, ride a bike and motorcycle, sail, swim, and race bicycles against able-bodied people,” Wagner said. “You can do anything you want to, you just have to do it. You can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something; you can’t let anybody limit you because in the end, the only person who limits you is yourself.”
A participant in the inclusive 1998 Vietnam Challenge from World T.E.A.M. Sports, which teamed former combatants in the Vietnam War on a cross-country bicycle ride, Wagner has also rode in four Face of America bicycle rides from Washington to Gettysburg. It was through this long relationship with the non-profit that Wagner encouraged Collins to participate.
Like other World T.E.A.M. Sports events, the 2013 Challenge in western Colorado was inspirational for the participating athletes. “It makes me perform my best because others are counting on me. It shows that by working together, we can accomplish anything,” said Wagner.
Richard Rhinehart serves as Director of Communications for World T.E.A.M. Sports.