Damianos Daktilidis: “What life has taught me is that you have to listen, have courage and patience”
A serious car accident in Mykonos, changed everything in his daily life. This was followed by surgeries, many months of rehabilitation and personal struggle with himself. But he never stopped hoping and setting new goals. This is how the Paralympic Games in Sydney came about, as well as the two medals he won a few days ago in shooting competitions. Damianos Daktilidis opens his heart and unfolds the tangle of his life at the Mykonos Post.
The first time I saw the name of Damianos Daktilidis, was in a post uploaded to his personal Facebook account by George Kafentzis. In the post of Giorgos, which took place on October 9, I was informed that Damianos Daktilidis from Mykonos won the 3rd place in a Persons with Disabilities shooting competition in Elefsina. I contacted Damianos, who was initially very serious and cautious about the phone. However, he was positive about meeting in person to do the interview and so we made an appointment at his house.
“It was bad luck. I overtook a truck, the motorcycle slipped and I fell on a wall. That was when everything changed”.
“I look back with nostalgia on my childhood”
Damianos Daktilidis was born in Mykonos in 1966. “It was a different time then. Difficult, but at the same time beautiful. My parents were farmers. At the age of 5-6, I was helping them in the fields. We went together for threshing and harvesting. I remember being sent to feed the pigs, the goats. I look back with nostalgia on my childhood. We were six brothers, so we did not have much luxury. I am the youngest child of the family”, he describes in the Mykonos Post. At the age of 12, he got his first job in a garage. “I did not go to high school because I was bad at studies. So, I decided to get a job. In the beginning, I was working in the garage of Thanasis Degaitis. I went to learn the art. I remember that at that time, I was earning 100 drachmas a day. After two years, I left there and went to the garage of Michalis Monogyios. Mr. Michalis gave me 2500 drachmas a week. There, I worked until I joined the army. Then I came back for a year and stopped because in 1989 I started working as a builder. I also worked at the Rainbow bar as a waiter. It was a popular bar that also operated in the winter. So, in the morning I was at the construction site and at night at the bar, to raise money to get a motorcycle” he explains. Indeed, Damianos bought the motorcycle he wanted. After all, he had learned from an early age to reach his goals, whether small or big ones. Until the day came that changed everything in his life.
“I took a large rod from the garden and put a hook at the edge. With this rod, I grabbed my shoes, my clothes, made my coffee, whatever else I wanted”.
“What I remember saying to myself is that I’m falling”
He is young, with fierceness, full of life and passionate about motorcycles, like most children his age. “Two months before I hit, I saw in my dream that a truck was chasing me. In fact, when I told my mother, she reassured me .”It is nothing my child”, were her words. Then I had a street bike and I wanted to sell it to get an enduro. The only conversation my mother told me was not to buy a black machine. This bothered me and I kept thinking about it. When I went to Athens to the shop of Mr. Giannis Papageorgiou to sell the street bike, inside the shop there were two enduro motorcycles. A white and a black one. Immediately the words of my mother came to my mind. I told him I wanted to buy the white one, but he replied that he had already sold it. But I was impatient and wanted to buy the motorcycle and return to Mykonos. So, I bought the black one. It was August 28, 1990. Not even a month passed and I hit”. It is September 25, Damianos rides the motorcycle to go to the construction site, as he does every day. During the break, he leaves the construction site to go get a coffee. And on the way back, something happens that will change his life forever, but also his daily life. “It was bad luck. I overtook a truck, the motorcycle slipped and I fell on a wall. That was when everything changed. What I remember saying to myself is that I’m falling. After that I do not remember anything.”
“The doctor who operated on my vertebra did not tell me clearly whether I would walk again or not. But I knew it”
Damianos Daktilidis, is transported by air from Mykonos to Athens and for two months is in the intensive care unit of the quot;Evangelismos” Hospital. Then he goes to KAT Hospital. “I was seriously injured in the head. At Evangelismos, a doctor came and saw that I was not moving my legs at all. They did an MRI scan, where they found that my vertebrae had cracked and my spinal cord had torn. The truth is that the doctors paid attention on my head because I was not wearing a helmet and I was seriously injured. The doctor who operated on my vertebra did not tell me clearly whether I would walk again or not. But I knew it”, he explains. His adventure with the hospitals lasts until March 1991, when he returns to Mykonos. His return to the island where he was born, means the beginning of a new and different life from the one he was used to. “In the beginning it was all difficult. The friends I thought I had, forgot about me. They loved me, but they could not manage this new situation and how to treat me. On the other hand, the day has turned to night for me. I was going out, I was drinking. Until at some point I said to myself enough is enough. My parents, without knowing it, did the best for me: Because they were farmers and were away from home for many hours, I had to live alone. And in those hours of loneliness, I learned to do many things on my own. I took a large rod from the garden and put a hook at the edge. With this rod, I grabbed my shoes, my clothes, made my coffee, whatever else I wanted. I struggled, but little by little, I started to become independent and to be honest I still have this rod. Then, I got a car and started to go around, not only in Mykonos, but also in Syros and Athens. When I bought the car, I went to find my friends, who found out that I was in the mood for life and we started hanging out again. I will never forget the support I received from my parents and siblings throughout this adventure. And I really want to thank them. I will not forget the help of my friends Costas Skoutzopoulos and Nasos Alexandropoulos as well. In fact, Costas helped me take my first swim in the sea after the accident. At that time there were no ramps or anything else. The next year, I made wooden ramps, but also a deck chair with wheels to enter the sea”. Regarding the infrastructure that Mykonos has for the disabled, Damianos Daktilidis emphasizes that “Very little has been done for the disabled, but the most basic problem is the toilets that do not have the special handles that go up and down on both sides to help the person in the wheelchair comfortably defecate”.
“I was inside the room during the birth and it was really a unique moment the birth of my child. From that moment on, I loved my wife even more”.
“On October 10 came the bronze medal and on October 11 the silver”
Life goes on. This was always on the mind of Damianos, who took life into his own hands again and with the new data, he was trying to have a regularity in all areas. “Professionally, I started working in a kiosk in Paraga. It did not go very well, so I closed it. Then I rented umbrellas in Paraga, but also some rooms that my father had given me. In fact, I was running our family business until 2016, when we rented it to others”. In 2017 he comes in contact with Vangelis Kakosaios, president of the Triptolemos Sports Association for Persons with Disabilities based in Elefsina. “As a disabled person, for about ten years, I did shot put, discus throw and javelin throw in another association. In fact, I had taken part in the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 and was eighth. Then, I continued until 2008 and stopped after the Paralympics that took place in Beijing in 2008. In 2017, I got in touch with the president of the Triptolemos Association and started target shooting. In the beginning, I did it more to spend my time. In the process, however, I began to like it a lot. I took my own weapon and equipment and I became more engaged”, he describes in the Mykonos Post. With patience and perseverance, came the distinctions for Damianos in target shooting. “This year I took second and third place in the races that held in early October. After five years of shooting, I see that there is significant progress. I took third place in the free shooting at ten meters and second place in the races in a prone position. On October 10 came the bronze medal and on October 11 the silver. The pan-Hellenic games took place in Elefsina and I am very happy for the specific distinctions. My next goal is to take part in the Paralympic shooting competition. In fact, my coach, Pelopidas Iliadis, said to me “I see you in Paris””, he says with a smile.
“My wife is the most beautiful and the best girl. I love her so much”
Distinctions in the Sydney Paralympics and shooting do not make him as happy and proud as his family: His wife and their 17-year-old son. “My wife is the most beautiful and the best girl. I love her so much. She met me in 1998 as a person with a disability. Specifically, we met in Paraga. Her cousins worked at the kiosk I had. So, she came in the summer to see them. When I saw her at the kiosk reading a book, I turned and said to her, “What is going to happen between us, girl?”. She answered me “You live here Damiane and I live in Athens, what do you expect to happen?”. I replied that when people want each other, everything can happen. And they did. When I took part in the Sydney Paralympics, she told her parents about me. Specifically, they watched the Paralympics on TV and she told them “So is Damianos. He is in a wheelchair.” This infuriated her parents. During my stay in Sydney, we broke up. When I returned from Sydney I went to Athens to find her. We were in the car and stopped at the church of Saint Emilianos in Kolonos. At that moment I said to myself “My dear Saint, make her say yes”. At one point while we were talking I said to her “Angeliki, all that is left for me is to take you away from your parents to finish with this”. And her answer was “Do it.” I paralyzed! “That’s what I did and we have been together ever since”, he describes. How did Angeliki’s parents react when he “took” their daughter? “At first they hated me, but then they loved me very much. “I never held a grudge against them,” he says honestly. In 2004, Angeliki became pregnant and in December of the same year gave birth to their son. “I was inside the room during the birth and it was really a unique moment the birth of my child. From that moment on, I loved my wife even more. When my son was born, everything that my parents told me to be careful of went through my mind. Only when I became a father did I realize the anguish they had for me”, he says. In less than two months, Damianos’ son will be 17 years old. What would be his reaction if at some point he expressed a desire to get a motorcycle? “I would tell him to be as careful as he can. Fortunately, he does not like motorcycles. I try to advise him and show him whatever I can. What life has taught me is that you have to listen, have courage and patience. From there on, everything can be solved”.
Watch videos from the recent shooting competitions, where Damianos Daktylidis took part: