Not everyone can say they played baseball for a professional baseball team but Dan Donaldson, a 39 year old paraplegic from Houston, Texas, has those bragging rights. A former left handed pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league system, he went on to became a medical equipment salesman after his baseball career ended. Read on for his story.
Traffic Stop Gone Wrong
Growing up, Dan fell in love with baseball. He exceled at the sport as a left-handed pitcher and after high school, he attended Texas A&M University to play for the Aggies. While in college, he also played minor league baseball from 2006-2008, playing for the Cincinnati Reds minor league farm system. He finished his first professional season in the highest level of the minors (AAA-Louisville Bats).
“I enjoyed controlling the action of the game,” he says about baseball, “and also that winning or losing resulted in how well I pitched. I played all over America and in different leagues. I even spent a little time in Triple A; just one step from the big leagues. It was very cool to compete against the best players in the world and I learned so much about competing and pushing myself to the limits.”
After graduating from college in 2008, Dan was hired as a full-time associate orthopedic sales rep. But just 2 years later, at the age of 26, he was paralyzed. “July 2010 I was shot by a police officer in a traffic stop gone wrong and before all of this police reform. There is a lot to this story that went unreported and uncovered,” he says, describing his injury. “There are things that I wish did differently that night, but I didn’t deserve to be shot. It’s a crazy story that I talk a little more about in the book I’m currently writing.”
Dan became a T9-10 paraplegic as a result and the transition to becoming a physically disabled man was not easy. “I went from being a professional athlete, in great shape, to being wheelchair bound for the rest of my life. It took a toll on me mentally for a while, but I relied on my faith that God could make me happy again and he did. I can do the physical stuff pretty easily because I am a strong athletic guy, but mentally I struggled for a while.”
The irony that Dan was already a wheelchair expert before his injury has not been lost on him. In fact, he says he has yet to see another wheelchair salesman also uses a wheelchair. “I worked in medical sales before getting hurt and continued that after rehab and getting out of the hospital I have sold wheelchairs, prosthetics, pharmaceutical drugs, orthopedic/surgical implants, and lab services – including COVID-19 testing during the pandemic.”
And when he decided to return to the same field post-injury, Dan says he had his share of naysayers. “I really love medicine and some people said I shouldn’t do medical sales after getting paralyzed, but I knew I could do it and do it well like before injury. If you want something bad enough you can accomplish anything.”
One thing that surprised Dan about living with a spinal cord injury is the affect he’s had on others. “I never imagined that I could impact, inspire and help so many people by just not quitting and never giving up. So many people look at us for strength and it’s important to show the world that anything is possible. God blessed me with a lot of confidence. If we own our situations, it will help more people than we will ever realize. Never give up!”
Dan, being a former athlete, may not have gotten involved in adaptive sports on a competitive level post-injury, but he does enjoy handcycling and staying active. “I try and workout more these days with a split, weighted jump rope and some weight training. I also like to play basketball and throw the football and baseball around with friends.”
In fact, after gaining weight post-injury he lost 50 pounds since 2021 and plans on losing another 20 pounds. “I gained a lot of weight right after getting out of the hospital,” he says. “It’s so important to stay lean and fit if you’re paralyzed. It helps with transferring and our heart health because we can’t walk or stand like we used to.”
And still a bachelor, Dan says he would still like to get married and have kids one day. “I really want to be a dad one day and have a family. If it’s in the cards for me great. If not, I will be a little disappointed. Even though, there are worse things in life,” he adds. When he’s not working, Dan loves to fish, attend sporting events, and spend time with his family. “I owe them literally my life after all they have done for me.”
Reflecting on his life with a SCI the last 13 years, Dan wants to relay a message. “I hope anyone reading this realizes that life can still be amazing post-injury. Everyone is on a different journey but you can inspire so many people and bring so many people hope. You are also loved. God loves you as well. Our situation is one of the most challenging things to endure in life, but with that you can always be a light for someone struggling too. If I can do it and be happy, then I promise you can as well. My DMs are open for any help as well.”
— Follow Dan at https://www.instagram.com/daniel_n_donaldson/