David Vobora was a heck of a quarterback, running back, and linebacker for Churchill High School in Eugene, Oregon. Pretty good basketball player too. Vobora was an even more effective linebacker for the University of Idaho Vandals, leading the team in tackles and winning first team All WAC honors as a senior. A legitimate NFL prospect, David Vobora entered the draft in 2008 and sat on pins and needles as round by round, two hundred and fifty-one names were called before his.
As the last player drafted in that season, Vobora joined the company of other last-drafted players, known in their season as “Mr. Irrelevant” There is considerable hoopla following the draft; Mr. Irrelevent is flown to California to receive the “Lowsman” Trophy, an awkward salute to the Heisman Trophy awarded college football’s best player. The Heisman pose is famous, displaying an artful athlete evading a tackle. The “Lowsman” features a player fumbling the ball.
All in good fun, right?
Some Mr. Irrelevants have gone on to play with success in the NFL, and Vobora, who started as linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, is one of them. His career lasted four years, after which, it might have been assumed, he would sink into obscurity.
And he almost did.
The commonly held conviction in the NFL is that players play, and players play with pain. Vobora played with excruciating pain after a shoulder injury, an injury which would finally end his career, and, as other players have done, he became dependent on pain medication during his last year as a professional athlete. A stint in a rehab facility and serious reevaluation of his life led Vobora to move to Dallas, where he opened an ambitious training facility, Performance Vault, Inc. in Dallas, specializing in training elite athletes and active duty Special Forces. A career in the NFL, however short, and the establishment of a thriving business serving athletes might be enough for many of us.
Not for David Vobora.
Here’s where David’s story meets that of Retired US Army Staff Sergent, Travis Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees to survive their tour of duty. Miles was on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device (IED) took both his legs and his arms. Today, Miles is an author and inspirational speaker, traveling widely with his message, “Never Give Up. Never Quit”. Today, Wills describes himself as “recalibrated”, able to achieve at a high level with prosthetic arms, hands, and legs.
Impressed by Mills’ resilience and energy, Vorora introduced himself to the veteran and asked, “When was the last time you worked out?” It was not a question Travis Mills expected; he tried to be tactful, reminding Vorbora that he had no arms or legs.
And David Vorbora replied, “So?”
Mills was the first to begin a training regimen usually taken on by elite athletes; Vorbora established the not-for-profit Adaptive Training Foundation in order to be able to provide training for other veterans at no cost. In beginning their work together, Vobora asked Mills to describe the fears he felt in taking on rigorous athletic training. “Falling,” Mills replied. “No arms and legs – Gravity wins.” Together they found ways to adapt, starting with core strength, but also developing balance and confidence. From the start, it was clear that while the physical aspects of adaptive training were important, an important benefit was in treating those who worked with him as athletes not simply disabled vets.
Vobora had faced his own crisis, questioning his identity if no longer a football player. These veterans had suffered life-altering injury; what remained for them if no longer soldiers? Many who approached Vobora had struggled with depression; some had considered suicide.
In a nine week training program called REDEFINE, amputees, veterans injured in combat, work through their fears and physical limitations to become adaptive athletes with a strong sense of identity and purpose. David Vobora drew on his own experience to design a program intended to, “Restore, Recalibrate, and Redeploy,”. A recalibrated Mills is one of the vets who has been restored and now is deployed in a career which brings hope to audiences across the nation.
It’s pretty clear in seeing David Vobora work with his athletes that he has been restored as well.
“So I train them here and I train them like pro athletes. What’s the difference if the guy has a leg or not? If a linebacker comes in with a knee scoped, we would create training around that knee as it heals. So what is the difference? And they come alive through that.”
He speaks of his loss of football as necessary to his understanding of those who have lost their identity; he sees courage, grit, and strength on a daily basis and considers himself lucky to have found his calling.
“What I’m doing now has a purpose. I know who David is without football. And he’s a guy who gets to help train our first double-amputee to summit Antarctica (Vinson Massif).”
David Vobora’s Foundation, Adaptive Training, maintains a website at http://adaptivetrainingfoundation.org. Pictures and videos do much more to communicate the work Vobora does than any article. If the thought of a double amputee taking on Mount Vinson isn’t enough to put your challenges into perspective, take a look at Limbitless, The Super Bowl Commercial You Didn’t See.
Quotations used in this article appeared in the Nov.15, 2016 edition of The Player’s Tribune, an article entitled, “The Breakthrough”