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SWAT member who was hit by fire truck at Nuggets parade and lost a lower leg starts comeback

DENVER (AP) — The last fire truck rolled through the streets of Denver during the Nuggets’ victory parade a year ago, transporting Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and the franchise’s first NBA championship trophy.

The truck suddenly stopped after a right turn. A moment later, chaos reigned.

On the concrete, amid the noise and celebration, police sergeant Justin Dodge fought for his life after his left foot was run over by the front wheel of the 36,000-kilogram vehicle.

There, on the street, he swore to himself: If the tourniquets held and the emergency services got him to the hospital in time in an off-road vehicle, he would make an epic comeback.

He, too, has made it through, after eight surgeries, including one that amputated his leg a few inches below the knee. A year after the June 15 accident, he’s back to full-time work as a SWAT team leader, has become a motivational speaker, the subject of a PBS documentary, and is just a phone call away for anyone going through a similarly difficult time.

“This day was pretty rough for me,” Dodge said in a series of interviews with The Associated Press. “But because of the things that are happening and the positive story that I’m trying to tell and that people are seeing, hopefully I have the opportunity to impact people in a way that I never could have before.”

His new motto is: “Crush the Hard.”

In fact, he has always acted this way. As a child, he became an elite goalie, playing for the St. Paul Vulcans in the United States Hockey League, among others. He rose to second black belt in the martial arts discipline of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

And so it was that four days before the first anniversary of the accident, he returned to full duty with the SWAT team.

“People are rooting for the underdog,” said Dodge, 51, who has been with the Denver Police Department for 27 years, including 18 years in SWAT. “Because of my situation, I feel like they’re rooting for me.”

Parade Day

An estimated 750,000 fans gathered along the parade route – and in Civic Center Park – to celebrate the Nuggets’ victory over Miami and their first-ever win of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Dodge ensured safety by running alongside the last fire truck – the one containing Jokic and Murray, along with team owner Stan Kroenke and president Josh Kroenke.

Near the end of the track, the truck turned and the tire caught on Dodge’s foot. He was pulled under the wheel, but he was able to maneuver – he attributes it to Brazilian jiu-jitsu – so that the tire did not roll over his knee or hip.

There were shouts from everywhere for the truck to brake. But the noise was too loud.

The truck came to rest on his leg before backing up. It lasted only seconds, but “felt like an eternity,” Dodge said.

Other first responders immediately jumped into action. Two tourniquets were applied. Given the crowded streets, instead of waiting for an ambulance, they loaded him onto an ATV and took him to Denver Health.

To save himself and his lower leg, he underwent immediate surgery.

Three weeks after the accident, his lower leg was amputated.

During his recovery, many visitors came to the hospital to wish him well, including Murray. Another was the driver of the fire truck. They have become good friends.

“There wasn’t a day where I just sat there and thought, ‘Why me?'” Dodge said. “Not one day. Because you can’t look back.”

Rehab

Former Nuggets performance director Steve Hess offered to help Dodge. Hess, who runs his own fitness company, is known for his infectious energy.

It was the perfect combination. They devised a plan to get Dodge from a wheelchair back to work using his prosthetic leg.

“Justin sees everything as an opportunity,” said Hess. “He knows no limits because he doesn’t accept any limitations.”

There were hard days. Simple tasks like showering or climbing stairs were so exhausting in the beginning.

“Sometimes I would just put my head on the floor (at the top of the stairs) and openly cry while my children stood around me,” Dodge said.

These moments only spurred him on even more.

“He would come to practice excited and I would always say, ‘You know I’m about to kick your ass,'” Hess said with a laugh. “There’s no off switch.”

That was necessary to get him back to the SWAT team, where he is part of a team called in during hostage rescues or active shooter situations. To get him in elite SWAT shape, Hess had Dodge climb over walls and do heavy squats and pushups.

When Dodge took the test to return to his unit, he was stronger than before during an exercise that involved running 400 meters with 25-pound weights in each hand and a gas mask.

“Nothing can slow him down,” said Hess. “He is above it.”

Motivational speaker

These days, Dodge gives numerous talks on the topics of resilience and well-being. He takes the time to talk to anyone who comes to him and has a similar experience. One of the questions he always asks: What are they doing today to be better tomorrow?

“While the truck was still on top of me, I was already starting my mental rehabilitation,” Dodge said. “I knew my life path had changed in an instant. But I told myself, ‘If I can make it to the hospital, I’m going to make an epic comeback.'”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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