Get to know Chip Gabriel, dare2tri Elite Team athlete and retired military member, as he provides answers for the Q&A below:
1. What’s your story/background?
I spent 10 years in the U.S. Army before I was medically retired due to a stroke that left me with hemiparisis (partial paralysis) on my right side. During my career, I was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division where I deployed to Iraq in 2004 and I spent a year in Afghanistan from 2009-2010 with the 1st Infantry Division. While I came back perfectly healthy from Afghanistan, a month later I started suffering from temporary ischemic attacks (mini-strokes) and in January 2011, I suffered a major stroke. At the time, I was based in Schweinfurt, Germany, where I was treated in German hospitals and rehab centers. Eventually the German and U.S. Army doctors determined that I sustained tears to my vertebral artery (one of the main arteries that supply blood to the brain), which clotted, eventually causing a stroke and damaging the nerves in my right arm, leg and foot. The reason cited for the stroke was multiple concussive syndrome (yes, I’ve hit my head a few too many times!). After two years of rehab both in Germany and at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, the Army found me unfit for continued service and medically retired me.
Before my stroke, I enjoyed an active lifestyle. After returning from Afghanistan and before moving to Germany, I purchased my first road bike in preparation to do a triathlon. Unfortunately, my stroke left me paralyzed on my right side, so I had to put my triathlon dreams on hold while I learned to walk again. After my stroke, I needed a goal to motivate me through countless hours of therapy. So, one afternoon, I registered for my first triathlon, just 9 months later. The following day, I ditched the wheelchair for a cane and I was determined to walk again. I became determined to enjoy all of my favorite activities again. Needless to say, I didn’t compete in that first race, but I was still determined to do a triathlon one day. A few months later I started swimming in my water therapy sessions. After months of rehab, I regained the ability to walk and regained some movement in my arm. When we moved back to Washington, DC, I continued my rehab, but also started an adaptive CrossFit program with other injured service members. In 2012, I found dare2tri through the Paralympic program coordinator at Walter Reed.
2. What is your specific involvement with dare2tri?
I was a member of the dare2tri Elite Team in 2012 and 2014. Since I don’t live in Chicago, I usually travel to race with the team.
3. How long have you been involved with dare2tri?
I have been involved with dare2tri for over two years. After completing my first triathlon in April of 2012, Keri Serota and dare2tri invited me to join their team for the 2012 USA Paratriathlon National Championship. I had a great time with the D2T coaches and team and have tried to participate as much as my schedule allows.
4. Why did you get involved with dare2tri?
Being classified as permanently disabled was devastating. Before my stroke, I enjoyed running, biking, swimming and CrossFit. After my stroke, I started doing CrossFit and swimming to strengthen my right arm and leg. However, I still wanted to complete a triathlon. I continued to sign up for races, but was unable to complete them. Fortunately, I found dare2tri at a perfect time in my life as the team gave me the help, motivation, and confidence I needed to complete my goal .
5. Is there a specific moment while with dare2tri that sticks out in your mind? If so, what is it?
Crossing the finish line at the 2012 USA Paratriathlon National Championship race in Austin, Texas. My journey from being a nearly paralyzed stroke patient to a triathlete was life-changing, and I could not have done it without the assistance of dare2tri.
6. What would you like others to know about dare2tri?
To me, the dare2tri experience is inspirational and humbling. Being around people who have overcome incredible difficulties in their pursuit of an active, healthy lifestyle is inspiring. Dare2tri ensures that no matter what your ability level is, completing a triathlon is possible.
7. What does dare2tri mean to you?
Dare2tri has given me a renewed purpose. My stroke and subsequent disability were devastating to me. Dare2tri has given me the help and camaraderie I needed to fight through the devastation and enjoy my hobbies again. It has also given me a platform to be a competitive athlete again. I train with a renewed purpose and the team has shown me that anything is possible.