Ready for Adventure: Travis Daniel's Story
For Travis Daniel, getting off the sidelines and into the game was a dream born in Shepherd Center’s Livingston Gym.
Visit a Shepherd Smash practice of Shepherd Center’s quad rugby team, and during breaks in the action, you might see Travis Daniel talking with a new fan. Usually, it’s a patient from Shepherd Center’s Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program who might be there watching the sport for the first time — curious if they could play it themselves.
“I love talking with people who come down from inpatient to watch us practice,” Travis says, “because I did the exact same thing.”
Travis, who came to Shepherd with a C-7 spinal cord injury from a snowboarding accident, remembers his first time in the Livingston Gym and seeing banners with different sports teams’ names on them.
“The Shepherd Sluggers? The Shepherd Swords? What is all this?” Travis, 38, recalls asking his recreational therapists.
They are just two of the 10 sports teams comprising the Fred, Shaler, and Andrew Alias Sports Teams program at Shepherd Center. The sports program allows individuals with physical disabilities to play sports on a recreational or competitive level.
Once Travis learned about the teams, he’d find out their schedules and watch as many practices and games as possible, especially the Shepherd Smash, Shepherd Center’s quad rugby squad. The physicality and athleticism of the athletes blew him away. But while watching from mere feet away, he sometimes felt like the play in front of him might as well have been happening on a planet a million miles away.
“I’d find myself dreaming about playing on that team,” Travis recalls. “But then I’d think, ‘Right now, I can’t get out of my bed without a Hoyer Lift. How am I supposed to push a rugby chair?’”
Today, Travis has indeed worked his way onto the Shepherd Smash, a testament to his hard work and the therapy he received at Shepherd Center. He’s also a catcher on the Shepherd Sluggers softball team.
But he has not forgotten being the spectator on the sidelines.
“It humbles me to be on the other side now, so I want to be a mentor and an encouragement for those watching me,” he says.
What does he tell current patients who come to watch the Smash?
“‘You can do anything you want. There’s always a way,” Travis says. “Don’t let anyone say you can’t do something. Consider that a challenge. Shepherd, man, they opened my eyes to everything. I’ve learned that if you’ve got people willing to help and teach, you can do anything.”
Of course, it’s not just sports that make for an adventurous life. Travis is a father of three kids — 10, 11, and 14 — and a husband to Brianna. Their shared life in Cumming, Georgia, is all about adventure. There’s “barn life” with the family’s horse, "farm life” with the family’s cattle on a farm in south Forsyth, and plenty of “dog life” with Travis’ new companion Gus, a 100-pound Doberman service dog. There’s also lots of shuttling time, as Travis has started driving the kids to school, church, doctor’s appointments, and their own sports.
All of the adventures are well-documented on Travis’ @c7quadsquad TikTok account, which has more than 8,000 followers who love the family’s candid, heart-warming interactions. His oldest daughter is a frequent and funny interviewer who quizzes her dad on how he gets dressed, gets in his car, and deals with people taking his accessible parking space. One video, of Travis “jumping” in the pool with his kids has more than nine million views.
“We’re living life, that’s for sure!” Travis says. “It’s just a fun way to show folks what’s possible. I’m still here. The Lord ain’t done with me yet. We’re rollin’.”
There’s more to come, too, including lots of travel.
Already, the family has taken several post-injury road trips, and soon they’ll head to Chicago for the Wheelchair Softball World Series. They’ll get there by plane, something they didn’t do much of pre-injury. Thankfully, Travis and Brianna participated in a Shepherd Center airport outing to learn how to navigate security, boarding, and much more.
“I’m so glad they did that because I didn’t have a clue how we’d manage it,” Travis says. “We’re ready to go now!”
Written by Phillip Jordan
Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.