A chance meeting on an airplane brought a world-class skydiver and inspirational speaker to Steamboat Springs Middle School on Tuesday.
As Steamboat Springs seventh-grader Taylor Dillard rode on a flight home from Mexico last April, he found himself sitting next to Dana Bowman. As he took his seat, he noticed Bowman's legs - two bionic limbs, one attached below the knee and one just above.
Dillard asked about Bowman's unusual legs, and as the two began talking, Bowman showed Dillard videos of his experiences sky diving, scuba diving and giving motivational speeches.
"I thought that was really cool," Dillard said. "I asked if it was possible for him to come to my school. He said anything was possible."
On Tuesday, Bowman emphasized the spirit of possibilities as he said, "It's a dream come true. I'm here."
Bowman presented students with an hour-long presentation about his time with the Golden Knights, the Army's parachute team, and the 1994 accident that left him without his lower legs. Doing a high-risk maneuver, Bowman and his partner collided in mid-air at a combined speed of 300 miles per hour. The collision severed Bowman's legs; his partner did not survive.
Less than a year after the accident, Bowman re-enlisted in the Army and was jumping again. Since that time, he has made more than 1,000 jumps, bringing his total to more than 3,000 in his lifetime.
He also has continued to scuba dive, has appeared in a Nike commercial and has earned pilot's licenses for airplanes and helicopters.
He has started a nationwide motivational speaking campaign, appeared on more than 250 TV shows, has spoken to groups of 150 astronauts and travels more than 100 days a year.
His message in his presentations is that "It's not the disability, it's the ability."
"We have to do the best with what we have," Bowman told the students.
Since Dillard's initial meeting with Bowman, he and his mother, Shannon Dillard, have stayed in touch using Facebook. When the time came for Bowman to visit the school, Shannon Dillard helped organize and, with help from friends, fund Bowman's trip. He stayed at the Dillards' house and waived his regular speaking fee for the middle school group.
"It's good for them to be exposed to someone who has been through as much as he has and has overcome it," Shannon Dillard said.
The connection with Bowman also has affected her son, she said.
"He's starting to focus now," she said. "It's made a big difference for him."
Taylor Dillard said he also has set his sights at keeping his grades high, because if he does, his mother said he may be able to visit Bowman at his home outside Fort Worth, Texas.
Bowman also is making plans to return to Steamboat after the snow melts, perhaps to demonstrate a sky dive and landing in front of students.
In the meantime, Bowman left the middle school students with a challenge.
"I challenge each and every one of you, if you haven't, go help someone," he said. "You are our future. We're depending on you to do good in school."
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