Deciding to Live: The Power of Sports, Music and Connection

Deciding to Live: The Power of Sports, Music and Connection

The September 11th terrorist attacks stirred a sense of duty in Dani F. to serve her country. She enlisted in the Army Reserves in 2004 and later joined the Marine Corps, serving on active duty. She had previously been pursuing a career as a semi-professional soccer player, but it suddenly seemed unimportant to have her name on the back of a jersey. Instead, she wanted to make a different impact.

While on active duty, Dani served as an Administrative Specialist, a Heavy-Vehicle Operator, and a driver team lead on two security details. She and her team were responsible for transporting munitions across Iraq to support ongoing missions or respond to emergent threats.

The years Dani spent transporting military cargo through hostile environments were difficult to reconcile when she returned home. On active duty, Dani had to constantly be prepared for the unexpected. At home, she had a difficult time turning off her security mindset, and everyday occurrences like being stuck in traffic created an intense amount of stress and anxiety. She felt out of place and alone as she confronted the challenges of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While going through her medical board as an active-duty Marine, Dani was introduced to Karen from Semper Fi & America’s Fund.

Karen quickly became a source of support for Dani and encouraged her to attend a multi month-long program to help with Dani’s reintegration back to civilian life and PTSD. Dani felt as though she had lost her identity when she became a Veteran, and the encouragement and support that Dani felt from The Fund helped her find meaning and purpose in life once again.

“I was treated with the utmost respect and kindness,” Dani said of her introduction to the Fund. “It was a mirror, and it taught me that just like a book, my mistakes and my injuries--my new normal--are just a part of my story. It does not have to be my whole story.”

The Fund introduced Dani to different programs that ignited the spark of things she once loved and gave her a renewed sense of self. Through Team Semper Fi –The Fund’s adaptive Sports Team – Dani fell in love with sports again, and the team atmosphere helped her feel connected and supported. She has participated in several triathlons and is active with Team Semper Fi’s “Runners Battalion.” Additionally, Dani found that music and songwriting kept her grounded and connected to others, especially veterans. Dani has appeared on numerous virtual concerts for The Fund, sharing her passion for music with other service members.

When she lost her job in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Fund was there to support her financially should anything happen to her service dog Valor. This is made possible by generous donors who have allocated that their funds be used to ensure that no Service Member has to give up their service animal due to financial constraints.

“I knew Valor was the right fit when I saw pictures of him as a puppy surrounded by musical instruments,” Dani said. “He matches my love for music and has been a constant support since I got him last year. He has fit into the puzzle of my life perfectly.”

Dani’s story is marked by resilience. She says that she wants “to live instead of just exist; to deal instead of stockpile.” The Fund has cherished the opportunity to come alongside Dani and help her accomplish this goal. More than that, the power of Dani’s music has inspired and connected the entire Fund family: staff, volunteers, and especially her brothers and sisters in arms!