Living to inspire

Lt. Col. Dan Oosterhous (Air Force photo)

Lt. Col. Dan Oosterhous (Air Force photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- You never know when you are going to make a positive impact on someone's life and provide inspiration. Do you have what it takes to inspire others?

Last spring, I was in a restaurant with my brother, on one of my first outings since leaving the hospital after multiple strokes. Wearing Air Force gear, I obviously stood out as I walked to my table. A very observant retired NCO approached me to ask about my situation. He was personable, caring, and someone whom I instantly trusted. It turns out he was the Air Force Wounded Warrior track and field coach, in town for the 2013 Wounded Warrior Games. He talked to me about other Airmen in similar medical circumstances on his team. His words inspired me.

From this encounter more than year ago, I am now on the Air Force Wounded Warrior team and am preparing with 20 other athletes to compete next month in the inaugural Invictus Games in London and the Wounded Warrior Games here in Colorado Springs. This encounter provided me an opportunity I didn't know existed and spurred me into action, changing my rehabilitation goals and life in the process.

How easy would it have been for him to look past me in the restaurant and not have engaged me? But also, how easy was it for him to have come over and introduced himself? With each opportunity we have to interact with each other, we might be opening doors and motivating someone to action, changing their lives. How many opportunities do we have each day to make an impact like this coach did for me? It really can be a simple as saying "hi."

During the Wounded Warrior Games training camp last week at the Air Force Academy, I witnessed countless examples of athletes inspiring one another. On day two of the camp, I set out on a 30-kilometer ride in a recumbent bike up and down Stadium Boulevard. Little did I know, the coach planned for us to finish the two-and-a-half hour ride with a tough hill climb from the stadium to the Preparatory School, a seven-percent grade on a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of road. After holding-off leg cramps for most of the ride, my leg gave out and completely locked up halfway up the hill, stalling traffic on the way to the commissary. I had no other option but to wait for the rescue truck, the only cyclist not to complete the course. The hill won that day, and I certainly needed inspiration on day three when we tackled the same course.

My inspiration came from a young Airman, using a recumbent hand cycle because of the loss of the use of his legs. I got to know him during the week and was drawn in by his positive personality. As I struggled to the halfway point up the hill, I heard a familiar voice from behind, urging me on. "Let's go Dan, C'mon Dan, Push it Dan! Can you taste the lunch waiting at the top, Dan?"-- all from someone pulling himself up the very same hill.

He stayed on my back wheel the last mile, not willing to pass me and making sure I made it up to the top.

My goal had been to make it just a bit further than the previous day, but with powerful encouragement from a fellow Airmen, I accomplished a lot more than I expected.

So do you have what it takes to inspire? Of course you do. Everyone has a specialty, skill, talent, or attitude that can inspire others. It doesn't take much and inspiration certainly doesn't have to be a locker room speech. Mostly, it can be simple words, kind gestures or mutual support. We can all be leaders who inspire by creating opportunities for others and helping open doors we didn't know existed, or reaching goals we didn't think possible. Each of us has the capacity to inspire and be inspired so be ready!