Daniel “Doc” Jacobs doesn’t give up. Ever.
Whether running marathons or climbing mountains to help wounded veterans navigate the complexities of returning from combat, this retired U.S. Navy Corpsman and dedicated athlete isn’t one to back down from a challenge.
The fact that he’s an amputee doesn’t slow him down either.
Wounded in 2005 while in Iraq, Doc was six and a half months into a seven-month-long deployment when his gun truck was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device). It resulted in the loss of his left leg below the knee, three toes from his right foot, and part of three fingers on his left hand.
“When it went off, my initial thought was I didn’t know the extent of my injuries, but I know I’m alive thinking this thought, so there must be something next,” he recalls.
Recovering from his injuries was a challenging two-year process that tested him physically, mentally, and spiritually.
“The first three months, my dad and grandma were bedside while I was an in-patient,” he recalls. “Then, I transferred out to San Diego and I kind of went into a dark pit. It really hit me that I was alone. The first few months of that were pretty terrible, but I drew a lot of inspiration from other amputees, especially ones that went back to active duty.”
Countless surgeries later, Doc became a source of inspiration himself by returning to the Fleet Marine Force as the first amputee corpsman and naval personnel to ever be assigned to an infantry unit.
All in all, he served more than eight years with six and a half as a combat-wounded corpsman. Awarded several personal awards, including a Purple Heart and Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal for saving 59 U.S. coalition forces’ lives, Doc decided it was time to turn his attention to making a difference as a civilian.
Fueled by a passion for helping others, he founded the Doc Jacobs Foundation, a non-profit that funds sports scholarships for children of military and veteran families. Doc also volunteers with many other organizations, he mentors veterans and those with disabilities, he has written several books, and he is in the process of writing a movie.
Recently, this family man and father of two graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and has been working across the world helping with recovery operations for finding soldiers missing in action.
Amazingly, in between all of that, Doc has also managed to rack up an impressive portfolio of athletic accomplishments including running 21 marathons, playing on the San Diego Ducks’ Sled Hockey Team, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, and trying out for multiple major league baseball teams. His goal is to become one of the few amputees to run a half marathon on all seven continents.
On June 6, 2021, Doc will be sharing his story and life insights as UAGC’s honorary Spring 2021 Commencement speaker.
In advance of his speech, we talked more in-depth to Doc to get a glimpse into how he faces unexpected challenges, stays positive, and focuses on helping make a difference in the lives of those around him. Here, he offers useful tips for those seeking to overcome challenges.
1. Choose Great Mentors
As Doc was navigating his new reality of living as an amputee, he turned to stories of others who successfully dealt with similar situations for encouragement. Two big sources of inspiration for him were Carl Brashear, an amputee whose story inspired the movie Men of Honor, and Rick Allen from Def Leppard, who continued drumming despite losing his arm in a car accident.
“I knew if those guys could do it, I could do it,” he says. “If Rick Allen can go on drumming one-handed and keep touring the world and inspiring people, and if master diver Carl Brashear can go back to the Navy and fight the system and win, I can do it, too.”
Eventually he ended up meeting Rick Allen backstage at a show.
“It was pretty awesome. All these groupies were back there giggling and getting autographs. And at the very end, I walked up to him and I said, “Mr. Allen, I know you don’t know me, but I just wanted to say thank you.” He looked at me and asked why. So, I pulled up my pants leg and showed him my prosthetic. I explained I wanted to thank him for giving me inspiration to do what I’ve done since my injury.
“It was a very emotional moment for both of us, and it was empowering,” remembers Doc.
“I think that may have been beneficial for him, too. I know that when people tell me that I inspired them, it has a healing power for me as well. I hope it healed him in a way, too, even if just a small fraction. I didn’t want a picture or autograph or anything, I just wanted to shake his hand and say thank you.”
2. Roll with the Changes
For those dealing with unanticipated situations in their lives, Doc advises them to be flexible.
“I would say accept it, but also go through the motions. If you’ve become injured in some way or your career path isn’t turning out to be what you wanted, just explore your new options,” he says. “Understand that we aren’t going to do every single thing we set our minds to, but trust there is a bigger picture.”
“Whether we believe in it or not, believe in faith or whatever you want to believe in and keep a good, positive mental attitude towards everything. Be willing to accept change and eventually everything will be alright.”
3. Turn Your Focus Outward
To keep a positive mental attitude, Doc says he finds value in staying busy and focusing on what he can do to help others. It’s something nearly anyone can do and can be as simple as lending a listening ear to a neighbor in need.
“Reach out to reputable organizations and see how you can get involved. Whether it’s handing out brochures at an event for a non-profit or picking up trash with a local organization. Go have coffee with a veteran, just reach out,” he says.
“I know that for me, helping others was the bigger picture,” explains Doc. “It’s the ‘why’ I came home. I told my dad a long time ago while I was in the hospital that even if I could just impact one person’s life and change it for the better, then that’s the reason I came home.”
“From there, it’s a chain reaction or a snowball effect. That person may go out and change two peoples’ lives. Then those people may each go change three peoples’ lives. And then together, we’re making the world a better place even if it’s just one person at a time.”
4. Pursue Your Passions
Above all, Doc reminds us that although we may face unexpected situations in our lives, ultimately, we are in control of our overall journey.
“Do what makes you happy. Don’t feel like you’re being pressured into doing something because it’s something that someone else wants you to do. If you feel like someone is pushing you to choose a certain degree or career path that doesn’t feel like the right fit for you, you need to decide what you really want,” he advises.
“As an example, growing up, I loved baseball and ran track. I played baseball in high school but I’m not going to tell my daughter she has to do that. Right now, she wants to be an actress on Broadway and I’m right there to cheer her on.”
“You do what makes you happy. It’s your life, live it. As long as you’re not hurting anybody or yourself, do it. Just live and be happy. In the long run, that’s all that really matters.”
Leah Nanaa is a frequent contributor to UAGC’s Forward Thinking blog.