When Danielle Green decided to join the Army after finishing her college basketball career at Notre Dame, she figured her days of sports accolades were over.
But on July 15, she'll be honored alongside LeBron James, Steph Curry and dozens of other professional athletes at the annual ESPY awards in Los Angeles, being broadcast this year on ABC.
Green, who lost her left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in 2004, is this year's recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service. The shooting guard turned military police was medically retired from the Army in December 2004, but went back to school to continue serving her country and fellow service members as a Veterans Affairs counselor.
She said she never wanted her past success or her injuries to define her future.
"Maybe 11 years ago, 10 years ago it was all challenging," she said of her injuries. "I had to try and figure out how to redo everything I had done left-handed.
"But you have to learn to adapt, learn to adjust to your environment. You have to keep working."
The Tillman award, in its second year, honors an individual "with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of Pat Tillman," the Arizona Cardinals star killed in Afghanistan in 2004 while he served as an Army Ranger.
Officials from the Pat Tillman Foundation and ESPN said Green stood out as an exceptional candidate for the award because of her selfless service, strength in the face of adversity, and continued commitment to her country. She'll be among the first honorees during the national broadcast, before most of the NBA stars get their chance to take the stage.
Q. After your college basketball career and graduation, why did you join the Army?
A. I always wanted to serve, but when I was in college I couldn't do ROTC because I thought I couldn't do that and play basketball, and I was on a basketball scholarship. But while I was there I did my research on the different branches, thought about what I wanted to do. I knew the country was headed into war, and I didn't feel comfortable going in as an officer.
There's something in me that has called my life to be guided by service. I was a school teacher after graduation but before I went into the military, and I got into coaching. And I feel like even though I couldn't finish my (military) contract, I'm still serving now in the VA. I always wanted to do something beyond what was expected.
Q. Did you regret joining after your injury?
A. There is no self-pity, there is no regret, because once you go down that road you get stuck. And then I won't be any service to the people who come in looking for help. That is my mission now. So I refuse to accept a role as a victim. I am victorious. I can't be stuck in the past.
When I got hurt, I got angry because I was not ready to die yet. And I remember saying a prayer. … I wanted to tell my story, I wanted to leave a legacy behind.
I've got a 9-month-old at home. I want my son to be able to look up to his momma and say, "There is an extraordinary woman." I hope I can inspire others.
Q. Is being a wounded veteran an asset or a challenge in your current job?
A. Currently I'm the team leader at the veterans center located in South Bend, Indiana. Our job is to welcome veterans home … and help them with whatever challenges they're facing. Sometimes that's post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, problems with substance abuse.
I think (my injury) is more of an asset than a challenge here, because I can connect with them. I think it gives them an opportunity to say, "she gets it, she has been there." With the Vietnam veterans that walk in the door, they'll look at me funny, because a lot of them didn't serve with women. When I get to my introduction — I put out there that I was an MP, I got hit by an RPG, I lost my arm — you can see them start to open up.
Q. Do you still play any sports?
A. I had been playing some golf. I have a special attachment that allows me to drive the ball like an able-bodied person. I'm not great, but it allows me to feel whole again. I can go out there and compete.
I've played a little racquetball, I get to the gym. I'm scheduled to play with the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team next month. I've played with them in the past. I can actually hit the ball, and I still have pretty good legs. I stay pretty active for the most part.
What does this award mean to you?
A. I was totally caught off guard by this. Pat Tillman was an extraordinary human being. I remember reading about him 11 years ago; I was hurt a month after he was hurt. So I just feel honored and grateful to be part of his legacy. I hope they continue to give this award for decades to come, because it's much-needed.
Danielle Green went from playing shooting guard at Notre Dame to military police in the Army and, ultimately, Iraq.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Notre Dame