An accident while deployed left him paralyzed. On Sunday, he’ll compete in Marathon

Daniel Evans, 40, was paralyzed while serving as a Marine in Brazil 20 years ago. On Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, he will participate in the Fitbit Miami Marathon.
Daniel Evans, 40, was paralyzed while serving as a Marine in Brazil 20 years ago. On Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, he will participate in the Fitbit Miami Marathon.

Daniel Evans is a Marine, a Maryland native now living in Miami and a man who isn’t going to let setbacks in life hold him down.

Not even after being paralyzed two decades ago when a 200-pound helicopter part fell on top of him after a crane cable snapped.

Twenty years, multiple hospital visits and surgeries later, Evans adapted to his new life even if there are still challenges along the way.

His soon-to-be next feat: Competing in and finishing the Fitbit Miami Marathon, which takes place Sunday morning and will take the more than 20,000 participants on a journey through downtown Miami, Miami Beach and his hometown Coconut Grove.

In order to complete the 26.2-mile race, Evans uses a handcycle, which is essentially a modified tricycle powered by a person’s arms instead of his or her legs.

“Cycling is just one aspect of my life now,” Evans, 40, said. “I’ve done a lot of different things.”

He joined the Marines straight out of high school and was deployed to Brazil one year into his service.

One day, while he and his crew were removing fuel tanks, blades and a gear box from a helicopter that was to be sent back to the United States, the crane cable holding the helicopter block about 25 feet in the air snapped. Evans was standing directly under it.

Three crushed vertebrae. A compound fracture in his left femur. Punctured ribs. Collapsed lungs.

“I was instantly paralyzed,” he said.

And while his life changed and he has adapted to life in a wheelchair, Evans still remains the optimistic man that he was before the injury. He can’t change what happened in the past. Why let it impact what will happen in his future?

“Maybe having something so drastic go wrong in your life allows you to downplay more normal life problems,” Evans said.

Evans tried to find ways to stay active. He first attempted paralympic sailing, a venture that brought him to Miami in 2012. He sailed with Team Paradise, a non-profit, mostly-volunteer organization that launched in 2005 and provides training, coaching and accessible sailboats free of charge out of the U.S. Sailing Center.

He hasn’t left South Florida since.

The love for handcycling developed later on.

The user lays down on his or her back, with a wheel on either side of his or her head and a bike pedal near the torso used to speed up, slow down and maneuver through turns.

At his peak, Evans can go faster than 20 miles per hour with the handcycle, a speed that allows him to finish a marathon in about an hour and 20 minutes depending on race day conditions.

An average training session has Evans as he gets ready for the weekend includes cycling for up to five continuous hours, only stopping for short breaks.

“I hope I am making the best of everything,” Evans said. “If not, I think I am aiming in the direction of being the best I can be. That’s my number one thing, to get to the top of what I can physically with all the parameters I can control about that. I just want to get to my body’s maximum capability.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.