David Abbot Fowler was a native Texan. He loved being outdoors, he played soccer at Houston’s Sharptown High School in the 1970s, and he took a job in construction after high school. In 1983 he joined the Army, where he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and participated in the U.S. invasion of Grenada. A 1984 diving accident resulted in a high cervical injury that left him paralyzed from his shoulders down.
Suddenly, David found himself on a journey he had never envisioned—as a quadriplegic looking at life from a completely different viewpoint. Although at first he was hesitant to attend the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG), it gave him a new attitude.
A few years ago he recalled, “For six-and-a-half years I sat at home thinking there wasn’t a lot I could do.” He then learned how to bowl from a wheelchair, and at his first NVWG, David won his first gold medal.
It occurred to him: “If I can do this, what else can I do?” And he spread that message year after year to other veterans at the NVWG.
For more than 20 years, David competed in numerous events including power soccer, slalom, wheelchair races and power relay events, using a sip and puff to drive his power chair.
His famous nickname was born from competition as well. NWVG founder Tom Brown remembers, “David was coming around a turn during a race and we were cheering him on; then I started yelling, “Blow, David, Blow! Blow, David, Blow!”
Others joined in as David raced on; but he thought he heard his fans cheering, “Go, David, Go! Go, David, Go!”
As he got closer and realized what the crowd was actually cheering, ”He began laughing so hard he couldn’t blow and so his chair stopped during the race,” Tom recalled. Forever after, David became known as Puff Daddy, even adopting the moniker as his email address.
Year after year, as David returned to the Games as a member of the Texas Blasters, his legacy grew. He did not miss a competition in 20 years. His wife, Marilou, whom he married in 1995, was his constant companion, caregiver and fellow advocate for other injured Veterans.
At the Games this year, Marilou said that she is here to continue her husband’s legacy. ”He loved the Games,” she said. ”He loved Paralyzed Veterans of America and being involved and helping other people. I’m just happy to continue what he started. He inspired so many people; not just the athletes from Texas but from all over.”
In 2008, David received special recognition for his achievements in adaptive sports: he was one of just 12 gold medal winners from the National Veterans Wheelchair Games to be featured on Cheerios boxes through an agreement with the Veterans Canteen Service and the General Mills Corp.
Richard Hoover, editor of PVA’s Sports ’N Spokes magazine, opined that some people have an ”indescribable ’thing’ that sets them apart from their peers by listening to how people speak, what they speak about and how they carry themselves when not speaking. David had that ’thing.’ ”
Said PVA Sports Director Ernie Butler, ”David Fowler, more than anyone, understood and embraced everything about sports and recreation, because he saw how it affected his life psychologically and physically after his injury. He never backed down from a challenge. He went hunting, fishing, skiing and still always had time to be a mentor to other Veterans with high-level injuries. He was an inspiration to all.”
For his dedication to the NVWG, his mentorship, his advocacy for Veterans with disabilities of all his spirit—David Fowler was posthumously awarded the Spirit of the Games Award Friday, June 26, 2015, at the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games in Dallas.
The David Fowler Memorial Endowment has been set up through Paralyzed Veterans of America and will assist in educating clinicians about spinal cord injury, researching better care, and assisting veterans with satisfying careers.