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Poughkeepsie Journal

January 4, 2009

Section: SPORTS

Page: 4F



Program Helps Disabled Athletes



Nancy Haggerty


There are New Year's resolutions and then there's year-in, year-out living a resolution.

There was a time that Dan Daly envisioned retirement as including two or more years of kicking back on a boat in the Caribbean, pina colada in hand.


And maybe someday the former New York City Fire Department battalion chief and longtime sailor, who has battled storm-driven, 50-foot waves crossing the Atlantic, will do that. But it's hardly a priority.


Instead, the 59-year-old Hopewell resident is dedicating his retirement to helping create one big ocean of possibilities for others.


Daly's a volunteer extraordinaire with the Achilles Track Club's Freedom Team, which is made up of more than 300 injured service veterans, most from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.


Daly, who has never worn a military uniform, explains, "The reason I'm involved is not because I'm a vet but because I'm a human being."


A volunteer with the Children's Wish Foundation for more than two decades now, he retired from the FDNY at the end of 2002 after 24 years.


Daly, who, like so many firefighters, logged countless Ground Zero hours, said amid the devastation, "There was a lot of hope, prayer and coming together... It was a very spiritual place. There was a lot of tenderness and compassion."


When the State Department sought an FDNY member to speak at a 9/11 news conference in Washington with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-Fire Captain Daly was chosen because of his Ground Zero work and background as a Toastmasters speaking group member.


He made such an impression that he was subsequently invited to speak on Capitol Hill. And concerned about 9/11's impact on kids, he took himself across the country in his free time to deliver a message of hope at schools.


But when the FDNY balked at allowing him to use his vacation time for State Department-travel internationally to introduce a 9/11 photo exhibit, Daly submitted his retirement papers.


Retirement, he'd decided in 9/11's wake, should involve more than the Caribbean, which suddenly "seemed kind of shallow".


Instead, Daly spent five years with the State Department's Cultural Educational Exchange Program, talking about peace, tolerance and responsibility before ministries of defense and top political figures, college and younger students, community organizations and police and fire departments in about 60 cities in 15 countries, including once standing in for Henry Kissinger to give a speech before then-Brazilian President Fernando Cardozo.


When his State Department job became a casualty of post-9/11 American "emotional credit with the world" plummeting as the Iraq War continued, Daly focused even more energy on the war's human casualties.


Daly impressed with effort


They'd been his concern for several years, ever since Toastmaster friend Mary Bryant, the Achilles Track Club's vice-president, invited Daly to watch the Hope & Possibility five-mile Central Park race.


"In the pouring rain, I saw troops on skateboards with no legs, triple amputees. I watched them crawling and wheeling over the finish. This was pure intensity and dedication," Daly said.


By the time the NYC Marathon rolled along that fall, Daly, who ran the marathon in 1972, had enlisted about 200 firefighters to help disabled participants. In the years since, the number of firefighters involved has mushroomed.


A group he earlier founded, Firefighters for Humanity, works with the disabled across the U.S. and internationally. Here, part of its focus is the Freedom Team Bryant founded in 2004.


Firefighters pick up disabled athletes at airports, transport them around race towns, help family members traveling with them and befriend the vets through what Daly calls a "buddy-up program".


"We want to show that we care about them and the sacrifice they made," said Daly, who volunteers at about eight races a year, 2008's calendar including travel with Freedom Team competitors to races in Hungary, Poland and Germany.


His work in Hungary has also included serving as 9/11 memorial marathon race starter. He runs 10 miles of that race each year.


Locally, Daly, in addition to myriad other duties, trails the NYC Marathon's disabled athletes in a van, fixing flats and making other minor equipment repairs before the able-bodied runners catch up and he must exit the course.


Daly speaks of firefighters leaving races with a "full heart" and said of his role, "This is absolutely incredible that I get to do this."


Close to many members, he said of the Freedom Team, "It really makes a difference. It's formed a family."


"These young kids start their young life beat up," he explained. "A lot are hurting. I've seen some change from cold and non-responsive to opening up and realizing there's life -- that they can have a real job, children and fun.... Some say, 'I can't believe I just did a marathon.'... This becomes a metaphor for them living their life. They say, 'My life isn't over.' "


Nancy Haggerty writes about extreme sports every Sunday in the Poughkeepsie Journal.


Dan Daly


Town: Hopewell Junction


Age: 59


Profession: Retired New York City Fire Department battalion chief


Family: Single


Hobbies: Sailing, public speaking and volunteer work







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