Marine Corps First Lieutenant Denis Oliverio and his wingman were maneuvering their tanks to face an enemy stronghold in the Iraqi city of Karabilah on October 14, 2005.
“It was common for us to face small arms fire, mortar attacks, and RPGs, but not automatic weapons fire,” said 40-year-old Oliverio in a telephone interview from his Maryland home. “That day, the insurgents put together a well-orchestrated effort.”
While maneuvering for position, Oliverio noticed a nearby American light armored vehicle become vulnerable after driving onto the scene. Unable to communicate with the vehicle on his radio, he popped open the hatch to use hand signals.
After signaling them to leave, suddenly an unseen force physically spun him around. An enemy bullet had shattered his left arm, and severed an artery and a major nerve. He bled so profusely his wingman left him for dead. If not for the heroic efforts of Marine Jared Malone, who faced gunfire to save Oliverio’s life, he likely would have died. Days later, he was recovering at a military hospital in Maryland, where doctors discussed amputating his left arm.
“Instead (of an amputation), I had 14 surgeries the first year,” he said. “My arm has 23 screws and three titanium plates. I also had two vein grafts and a nerve graft. I don’t have feeling in three fingers, can’t extend my arm all the way out, and don’t have much arm strength. It’s painful (to use) and weak.” He can’t tie his own shoes.
Yet with help from Disabled Sports USA and certain golf professionals, Oliverio, now a retired Marine, has learned through lessons to adapt his golf swing to become an above-average golfer. Golf had been his pre-injury passion. Disabled Sports USA, which operates nationwide, has helped thousands of Americans with all sorts of disabilities gain independence, confidence, and fitness through adaptive sports.
To people recently acquiring a disability, he advised, “You may think because you have some disability that certain (sports) options aren’t there for you anymore. But if you have the desire, those doors can be pushed open or you can find another door. Either way, you can always get to where you could before (the injury).”
Besides Disabled Sports USA, Oliverio attributed his can-do, positive attitude to the Marine Corps and to his mother, who courageously raised Oliverio and his nine siblings after her spouse’s death.