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Disabled former sheriff's deputy wins big at athletic competition

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It took Dan Clarkson about a year and a half to walk after a 2006 motorcycle wreck, even though doctors said his chances of that were slim.

Now the former Kanawha County sheriff's deputy is defying the odds again -- this time at a national disabled athletes competition.

Clarkson took top honors in all of his events -- discus, shot put and club (a throwing device for disabled athletes) -- and might have set records in all three throwing events at the Thunder in the Valley Games in Saginaw, Mich., last week.

"It was great," Clarkson said. "I thoroughly enjoyed it."

He was part of a team of seven West Virginia athletes who competed in the event, held May 30-June 2.

In all, the West Virginia team members set 12 national records and were champions of the small-team competition.

"We knew [Clarkson] and the other athletes had tremendous potential," said Jeremiah Gagnon, recreational therapist at Charleston Area Medical Center's medical rehabilitation center and chairman of the Challenged Sports Committee. "How much? Well, I guess it's up to them. We'll give them the opportunity."

Besides Clarkson, the local team members were James Cowie III, Wesley Dorcas, Mike Fielder, Fawn Washington, George Jackson and Charles Keiffer.

Gagnon said that since 1992, 11 West Virginians have held 19 national records for challenged athletes.

"In my theory, it's just the character of the people here," Gagnon said. "When you look at the people of West Virginia, the people who came to settle here, they were fiercely independent people."

There is one more official national event this year before the records are published for the year in January. The athletes will officially know then if their records for the year held or if they were beaten.

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.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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