Retired NFL Linebacker Gives Veterans a New Life

Former NFL linebacker helps train disabled veterans

A former NFL linebacker who has worked for years training disabled veterans is featured in a Starbucks series produced by Howard Schultz.

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David Vobora played with the Seahawks in 2011 – his last season in a four-year NFL career. After battling an addiction to painkillers, Vobora started a gym, training elite athletes.

His focus changed when he met Travis Mills, a former Army staff sergeant who lost all four of his limbs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Mills is one of five surviving combat veteran quadruple amputees from post-9/11 wars.

The following is part of a story from Rajiv Chandrasekaran, a former Washington Post editor who is now a storyteller for Starbucks and co-producer of the company's Upstanders series.

"Vobora began their first workout with a question: 'What are you most afraid of?'

'Remember: No arms, no legs,' Mills said. 'Gravity wins. So it’s falling. I’m afraid to fall.'

So that’s where Vobora began. Falling became the foundation of the training regimen. Vobora sought to improve Mills’ balance, his understanding of weight transfer, and his core strength. Sometimes he used giant rubber bands to catch Mills as he tumbled. Other times, he just let him fall onto a padded mat.

'If you’d been coming through the gym and you saw me let a quadruple amputee fall, hit the ground, and refuse to help him, you’d probably have me arrested,' he said.

Mills grew stronger and more assured. Pro athletes at the gym looked on in amazement as he pulled a 100-pound sled along a 30-yard stretch of artificial turf on short prosthetics. They stopped complaining about sore muscles, and increased the intensity of their own workouts.

Vobora also began to change: Instead of trying to lure more pro athletes as clients, he set out to recruit another disabled athlete."

Later, Vobora got a phone call from his sports agent.

"A Dallas Cowboys linebacker had been injured and they needed a replacement in short order. Was he interested?

It was a chance to return to the gridiron, his first love, with a paycheck he never thought he’d see again. He thought it over and texted his agent: Sorry, but I’m retired."

Watch Vobora’s full story above, recorded by Starbucks' director of photography, Josh Trujillo.

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