David Santamore: The Adaptive Athlete

Marine Corps veteran David Santamore survived a tour in Vietnam without major injury, but in 2005 he lost his left leg below the knee when the motorcycle he was riding was blindsided by a car. Rather than let the injury restrict him, Santamore persevered and became a member of World T.E.A.M. sports. The acronym stands for The Exceptional Athlete Matters.


Residence: Barre

Family: Wife, Kay; three grown children

Occupation: Retired insurance agent, part-time staff at Washington County Youth Services Bureau

Primary sports: Downhill and cross-country skiing, sled hockey, hand-cycling, wheelchair basketball, kayaking, swimming, and scuba diving
VS: Tell us about World T.E.A.M sports?

DS: World T.E.A.M. Sports is a non-profit that provides opportunities for athletes to participate in a variety of events. I’ve done three or four of them. There is one at the end of April called the Face of America ride. It’s a two-day, 110-mile ride from the Pentagon to Gettysburg with 500 cyclists, including 125 disabled athletes.

I’ve also participated in their Adventure Team Challenge in the High Sierra desert near Grand Junction, Colorado. That’s a three-day event that incorporates a 5 ½ mile hike with a 12-mile whitewater raft down the Colorado River, some mountain biking, some rock climbing and some rappelling.


VS: Have you always been an athlete?

DS: I grew up on a farm and played high school sports. I was always quite active and I served in the U.S. Marine Corps. I lost my leg in 2005 when I was on a motorcycle and was broad-sided by a car. Fortunately, I was able to save the bike, but I lost my left leg.


VS: What was the first sport you tried after your injury?

DS: The first thing I did to re-establish my boundaries was climb Camel’s Hump for my birthday in August, 2006. I called some friends and told them I wanted to have a picnic to celebrate at the top of the mountain. I had to start at 5 a.m. in order to have lunch near the top at 2 p.m. It was a rainy day and I needed a rope to get down the mountain because it was so slippery.

I had to pace myself to avoid exhaustion so I was moving for 31 hours, but I made it back down. It was a perfect test and I completed it and established that if time wasn’t an issue, anything was possible. The first sport I competed in was sled hockey. I had played a little pond hockey when I was young, but nothing organized. I started with the Vermont Sled Cats and since then I have helped develop a veteran’s sled hockey team based in White River Junction called the Ice Vets. We’re always looking for new recruits. We’re open to all athletes, but our main goal is to help veterans.


VS: When did you start mono-skiing?

DS: That was my next sport. I started with the Northeast Handicapped Sports Association at Mt. Sunapee as part of the New England Winter Sports Clinic for disabled veterans. I’ve skied with the group Veterans without Boundaries at a number of ski areas. These days I have a pass at Stowe.


VS: What has been your most memorable athletic moment?

DS: I took part in the CanAm Challenge with World T.E.A.M. We rode almost 800 miles from Ottawa to Washington D.C. We left Parliament on June 20 and arrived in Washington on July 3 so we could appear in the Fourth of July parade. That was very challenging. Our longest day was 85 miles and started with a 12-mile climb out of Cooperstown, New York, which was quite impressive. I’m hoping to get selected to do the Sea to Shining Sea ride in 2016 that goes from Oregon to Boston, averaging 60-mile days. That’s my next goal.


VS: Have you done a lot of hand cycle events?

DS: I’ve done the Marine Corp marathon a few times, as well as the Vermont City Marathon. I’ve done the Kelly Brush ride, usually doing 50 miles. I’ve also done the Three Notch Century in New Hampshire. The first day you do Lincoln, Crawford and Franconia Notch and the next day is the full length of the Kancamangus Highway where you start with a 22-mile climb and then a 14-mile scream down the other side.


VS: Closer to home, you’ve also done the Darn Tough Race over the Notch. How tough was that?

DS: It was a good ride and a good group of people. Last year was the first year hand cyclists were involved and hopefully we’ll have a bigger turnout in the future. It was a great event. The special thing is there were a variety of levels of riders and everyone helped each other. It’s amazing how quickly it becomes pretty cohesive.


VS: How much harder are the hills on a hand cycle?

DS: It’s twice as hard because you’re using your arms instead of your legs. It’s quite difficult when you start off. An equally accomplished cyclist would finish a century in about the same time a hand cyclist would finish 50 miles.


VS: And then there’s the tandem mountain bike…

DS: That was part of the CanAm Challenge and it was very challenging. It was the first time I’d been on a tandem mountain bike and the fellow in front was a triathlete who had also never been on one. This wasn’t beginner terrain, either. We were going through sand and mud. We spent some time on the bike and some time lying on the road, but like anything else you just keep going.


VS: We haven’t even begun to hit all of your sports. You also play wheelchair basketball, right?
DS: We play eight or nine months of the year at the Barre Evangelical Free Church on Tuesday nights and we put on exhibitions and fundraisers. We did a fundraiser for Bristol High School where the varsity team used wheelchairs and competed against us.


VS: What was the hardest sport to learn?

DS: Mono-skiing. The first couple of years were quite tough because I didn’t have my own equipment and it’s hard when you don’t have something that fits you. Over time I was able to get fit better and it was a whole different world. Now I just sit down, strap it on and go. At the New England Winter Sports Clinic at Sunapee that first year, I got the Human Snowplow Award, which is given to someone who has a lot of difficulty but keeps a good attitude. The following year I was awarded the Most Improved. You give a Marine a mission and you don’t have to worry about it.


VS: You also do a lot of volunteer work, don’t you?

DS: In 2000, I retired from selling insurance. Since then I’ve had some part-time jobs and for the last six years I’ve worked at the Return House, which is a transition home in Washington County for young men returning to the community after being incarcerated.

On Tuesdays I usually mentor kids at Berlin Elementary School and on Wednesdays we have a checkers club where we teach kids to play and finish the year with a tournament. I also volunteer with the Barre Community Justice Center doing outreach support for those transitioning from prison to the community.

If I just sat on the couch and ate bonbons I’d get bored — and, besides, bonbons are expensive.

Phyl Newbeck

Phyl Newbeck lives in Jericho with two spoiled orange cats. She is a skier, skater, cyclist, kayaker, and lover of virtually any sport which does not involve motors. She is the author of “Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving.”