Before his motorcycle accident in 2006, Clarkson had been a Kanawha sheriff's deputy for 20 years. He was riding his motorcycle in Lincoln County when he hit some loose gravel, causing him to wreck. His spine was bruised in the accident, and doctors, in retrospect, say they didn't expect him to walk again.
"[After the accident,] I said, 'Doc, you're going to be able to get me back, aren't you?' And he said, 'Yeah, Mr. Clarkson, I know you and I think I can.' But now when I go into his office, he tells me, 'Mr. Clarkson, I never thought I'd see you walk.'"
He's retired as a deputy, but still works a few hours each week at the sheriff's office.
"Dan is our inspiration around here," Sheriff John Rutherford said. "He never misses work. He comes in with a great attitude.
"He has challenges some of us don't, but he just smiles and is a real inspiration to the whole department, from the top to the bottom."
Clarkson had been training for the games since April but regularly works out each week at a gym in the sheriff's office.
"Three days a week he does a workout that a lot of other very healthy deputies don't perform," Rutherford said.
Gagnon, who has worked with Clarkson since his accident, said he got chill bumps thinking about seeing him succeed at the competition.
"You know the potential is there, especially with someone like Dan who's also the eternal optimist and always sees the bright side of things," Gagnon said.
Of all the athletes from West Virginia who competed, Clarkson's performance was the most outstanding because it was the best he had done, he said.
"Dan's by far was the best performance he's ever had in practice or in competition," he said.
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.