An explosion in Iraq led to the amputation of both his legs. Then Army veteran Dan Nevins faced 36 surgeries, a divorce and an emotional battle with the invisible wounds of war.
The years after the 2004 attack left him anxious, restless and plagued with nightmares. Nevins knew he needed help.
“I was chasing Benadryl with whiskey, hoping I wouldn’t wake up,” said Nevins, a retired Army staff sergeant. “I was spiraling downhill fast.”
In 2014, Nevins called a friend, Anna Dennis.
She told him, “Dan, you need some yoga in your life.”
“I said, ‘That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard,’ ” recalled Nevins, who lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. But he eventually agreed to give yoga a try.
At his first lesson, he found himself frustrated, wobbling and unstable on his prosthetics.
“It was painful, and I was angry because she kept telling me to press my feet into the ground,” he said.
Finally he told her: “Quit saying that word! I don’t have any feet!” And then in a fit of resentment, Nevins took off his prosthetic legs and flung them aside.
His friend instructed him: “Root down and rise up.”
“I raised my arms, and it felt as though life was shooting out of my hands,” he said. “Tears were streaming down my face.”
Now Nevins, 46, a single father of three, has made it his mission to encourage others to find yoga. He serves as an advocate for the Wounded Warrior Project, traveling the world as an international yoga instructor, hoping to bring a sense of calmness and purpose to others’ lives.
He knew he wanted to become a teacher after one of his Army buddies came to his place for a beer one night, and Nevins could tell something was wrong.
“He finally told me that two days earlier, his wife had found him in a closet with a gun in his mouth, seconds away from pulling the trigger,” he said. “I sat there and all I could tell him was, ‘You need some yoga in your life.’ So right there in my living room, I taught my first class.”
Nevins signed up his friend for yoga classes and received a phone call three weeks later. “Thanks for saving my life,” he recalled his buddy telling him. “Yesterday was a bad day, but instead of grabbing my gun, I grabbed my yoga mat.”
Nevins now teaches about a dozen classes a month — near his home and at military bases overseas when he gives speeches for the Wounded Warrior Project.
It’s a common refrain from his students that he saved their lives.
Scott Almhjell, 48, served with the Army during Desert Shield and Desert Storm and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder when he returned to Arizona .
Once suicidal, Almhjell said he became a “new person” after attending one of Nevins’ workshops.
“He reminded us that we are warriors, and what that really means,” Almhjell said. “It might sound stupid and hokey, but Dan gave me my life back.”
The attack in which Nevins lost his legs happened on the morning of Nov. 10, 2004, when an improvised explosive device went off beneath his Humvee. He was inside the vehicle with a friend, Sgt. 1st Class Mike Ottoloni, who was killed.
“... I thought: ‘This is it. I’m going to die right here,’ ” he said.
After he was rushed to a military hospital, doctors amputated what was left of his left leg below the knee and managed to save his injured right leg. But when infection set in three years later, Nevins had to have that leg amputated. He spent almost two years in and out of surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland.
Nevins said that losing his legs was “worth it” if it helps him to share the most important work he’s ever done.