Accident knocks former UT Tyler student down but can't extinguish his shine, drive
BY CAREY ASHCROFT
People crowd the small Starbucks on Eastman Road in Longview to escape a hot Friday afternoon in September.
Danny Kinnamon, 29, pulls up in his white Chevrolet pickup just in time as seats free up in the coffee shop.
At first glance, some only notice the obvious about Kinnamon, but he has other distinctions that catch the eye.
A flashy oval belt buckle reads "champion" and sits strategically in front of his navel for everyone to see.
Facial hair trimmed like a classic cowboy outlines his face. He introduces himself with the Southern drawl of a gentleman.
Although he is decked out in boots and Wrangler jeans, he has one accessory most cowboys don't -- a wheelchair.
Settling down to talk about what could be a sensitive subject, Kinnamon holds nothing back. This native Texan has been a straight shooter from a young age.
After an accident at age 4 that left him with a prosthetic eye, he and his mom hoped that would be his last long-term emergency room visit.
Their optimism fell short three years ago on June 25, 2009, when Kinnamon was 27 years old.
Off work for the day, Kinnamon had gone to the gym and was headed home to do yard work with his younger brother.
On a 20-foot ladder, he trimmed limbs with a chainsaw. One limb did not fall away like it should, but instead fell forcefully toward him. He did a backward swan dive, landing on his back. Instantly, he knew something was not right.
He could hardly breathe or talk and waiting for the ambulance to come was excruciating, he said.
At the hospital, doctors told his mother that he had broken his spine with a burst fracture of the seventh thoracic vertebra. In addition, he suffered five broken ribs and a bruised lung.
"A burst fracture is basically putting a bomb in your back and blowing it up," Kinnamon said.
Although the doctors told him and his family he would never walk again, Kinnamon believed differently.
Before that summer day, Kinnamon was a triathlete who had just figured out his path in life.
Even while competing in the swimming, biking and running triathlons he was still dedicated to his education.
He was attending The University of Texas at Tyler to earn a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. His goal was to become a coach or trainer, continuing his current path of physical fitness.
Now, he regularly attends physical therapy at The Good Shepherd Institute for Healthy Living in Longview.
He hopes to walk again, so he works out an additional six days a week to build toward his goal.
Inspired by his therapists, he recently applied for the physical therapist assistant program at Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant.
"Danny, when you get in, this will be an experience we all can learn from," said Nancy Wilson, the program's director, about her hopefulness about a physically disabled student entering the program.
Although Kinnamon did not get in this spring, he has high hopes for the future and is not giving up.
After more than three years away from college life, he'll go back to school in spring 2013 to take prerequisites for the program.
A countless number of people, including his therapists and mother, show continuing support for Kinnamon's rise above his accident and his chance to prove the doctors wrong.
Neal Young is one of those people and an older friend of Kinnamon's whom he used to chat and drink coffee with on the weekends.
In fact, he believes in Kinnamon so much that shortly after his accident, Young gifted him his 1987 champion buckle.
"You are going to prove ... (them) wrong. I admire you for not giving up and you deserve the right to wear this," Kinnamon said, recalling what Young told him shortly after his accident.
Kinnamon exudes breathtaking confidence. He doesn't consider himself handicapped or disabled, even though by definition he is a paraplegic, which means the lower half of his body is paralyzed.
"Everything happens for a reason and who you are on the inside is what counts," Kinnamon said.
His daily activities have not ended because of his accident but are merely altered. He operates his white Chevrolet by hand controls and has a crane that lifts his chair to the bed.
Although he is not involved in a disability service program, he is open to it.
"People take walking for granted," Kinnamon said. "The quicker you come to terms about what happened the better. You can't let it embarrass you, or it will eat you alive."
On different occasions, he has gone to local hospitals to encourage other spine injury patients that life does go on.
he does not sugarcoat things or let them feel sorry for themselves, because that will only hurt them in the long run.
Kinnamon has not let his accident hold him back, still going to the gun range or socializing with friends.
He actually calls the event a blessing because it helped him realize that nothing in life is a sure thing.
"If I were to die on the way home, I'd be fine with that," he said, although he doesn't mean he would be happy to leave his family behind.
He lives his life for himself, his family and God. Every day he spends on earth is a blessing, but he takes nothing for granted.
Kinnamon's optimism and courage shine brighter than even his oversized "champion" buckle.