By Desirae Duncan
FORT KNOX, KY (August 3, 2015) –22-year-old Cadet David Garza is no stranger to goals.
In June, the veteran soccer player scored two of them in the 2015 Cerebral Palsy Football World Championships in Staffordshire, England clinching a 4-1 win over Argentina. The win qualified the United States Paralympic National Soccer team for next summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“It was a dream come true,” said the California State University, Dominguez Hills senior.
The USPNT program consists of selected players from across the United States who don’t allow their neurological conditions to stop them from playing the game they love. All the players on the team have had a stroke, a traumatic brain injury or acquired brain injury, or have cerebral palsy.
Garza’s injury came from a car accident in May 2012 after his freshman year of college. He spent four and a half weeks in a coma, breathing and eating through a tube in his neck, and over five weeks in the hospital.
His jaw was broken, his left eyebrow was completely ripped off, and the sharp fuse box underneath the steering wheel cut his left knee open.
“From that point on I thought my soccer career was done.”
Garza was told he would never walk again, but his recovery was remarkable. Step by step, Garza regained his ability to walk, but mentally was the “worst part.” He struggled to find someone to relate to, to vent to.
“It definitely made me stronger as a person,” he said.
Garza was resilient. “’Don’t quit, don’t ever quit’ is something that I always put inside my head.”
Two weeks after scoring against Argentina, Garza traded in his soccer jersey for Army camouflage to step beyond the white lines of the soccer field to the training fields of Fort Knox for the 28-day Cadet Leadership Course for a different mission.
“To serve my country was always something I wanted to do. Either in a soccer uniform or an Army uniform was always my top two goals.”
Garza calls his near-death experience a “blessing in disguise” citing it as his push to join the ROTC program to carry the torch for his family. His dad was in the Navy.
Now the 8th regiment CLC cadet is proud to be a member of not one, but two teams, and he’s thankful for the training – the lessons on trust and team cohesion – that he’s gained in both worlds.
“Yes, we’re not going to give up our body for a bullet in soccer, but just to know that they’re going to give up their body, what it means to save a goal or score a goal, to help whatever that team is, the thing is when it comes to the Army and team USA, they’re a team,” he said.
His coach Stuart Sharp describes Garza as an “excellent young man” on and off the field and says his leadership and camaraderie among the rest of the players as a skill that makes the central defender stand out.
“[The team is] very easy to coach because each one of them takes great pride,” USPNT head coach Stuart Sharp said, noting Garza as an “enthusiastic individual” who has a great deal of pride in representing his nation through a sport he loves.
For Garza, his focus isn’t on himself — “I don’t really like showing off how well I’ve done” – but on the red, white and blue.
“I am a symbol of the Army, I’m a symbol of the soccer uniform, but most of all I’m a symbol for USA as a country.”
Garza plans to commission into reserve duty upon graduating in May 2016 to lead part-time in the Army while continuing to lead Team USA on the soccer field.
Garza’s next step is the Parapan American Games in Toronto during the first week of August.