CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — When Danny Riffle lost his leg nine years ago, he didn't think he would become an athlete.
In fact, when he first was first approached to join Charleston Area Medical Center's challenged sports program, he said he wasn't interested.
However, thanks to a need to get out of his hospital room and a therapist who insisted he join the program, Riffle says he joined and it changed his life.
"I've never been an athlete in my life," the 64-year-old Summersville resident said. "When teams chose their ball team for sandlot, I was the last to be chosen. I wasn't that athletic but the challenged sports program offered the opportunity to be an athlete. Now, I feel like I am."
A smoker for 41 years, Riffle said he started having trouble with his leg but he still couldn't kick the habit, which later caused him to lose his leg.
"It's awful to say but I'm healthier now than I was 10 years ago," he said. "I did no physical activity. I worked hard -- worked long hours. I came home and sat on the couch. I did what I had to do and that's it. Now, I look forward to do what I can physically."
Back in 2004, Riffle had just received his artificial leg and was in rehab to learn how to use it. His recreational therapist saw him again the day after Riffle initially had expressed no interest in joining the program.
The program, sponsored by CAMC's Medical Rehabilitation Center, is the only organized, sanctioned sporting program for the physically challenged in West Virginia, according to the hospital.
Riffle said he was skeptical because he had never done javelin or shot put before.
"He said there was a vacant lot two blocks up the street and there were implements in the office and he would teach me how to throw," Riffle said. "I was in the hospital for nine days. Just the opportunity to be outside was enough for me to want to give it a try."
At first, Riffle said he didn't think he was catching on but his therapist told him he was doing well.
However, it only took a year after receiving his artificial leg before he started competing. Riffle said he broke three state records and finished second in discus, javelin and shot put competitions.
"I raced my wheelchair in the 100-meter race," Riffle said. "The only chair I had was the one I was pushed out of the hospital on. And I finished second.
In addition to these three activities, Riffle also participates in shooting competitions for air rifle and pistols. He said he even captured a state record for pistol shooting.
"It amazes me that I've been able to do some of these things," he said.
Several people have inspired Riffle, especially the people he competes against.
"There's this young man — he may be 5 years old now. ... He's amazing. He's going to be a tremendous athlete," Riffle said. "We had a guy who came down from Ohio and he did the 10k wheelchair race. It took him four hours but he did it. He's probably 80 years old. There are people I know have difficulties. And it's not an easy task sometimes, moving around and getting around. These people I compete with truly understand the difficulties I go through. I understand the difficulties they go through every day."
Riffle said getting where he is today is a constant effort and it takes a lot of determination.
"I practice as much as I can," he said. "I'm at the fitness center nearly every day. It's just something for me to strive for. If I win another gold medal, that's fine. If I don't, that's fine. The thing I want to accomplish next year is to do a little bit better."
This year, Riffle had to undergo surgery to remove a blockage in his artery. He said he still was able to compete this year but once he got back to the hospital, he had a stroke and lost the use of his left arm and left leg.
He said he is not back to 100 percent but will compete next year, even if he can't do every event.
"It was one of those things and I didn't realize it until the morning after I had the stroke that I realized at that point, I may not be able to compete," he said. "It hit me that hard and I never thought I liked to compete. I like to be around people. I didn't realize until that point when I realized I may not be able to compete how much it really meant to me."
Besides breaking multiple records, being a five-time winner of the Grand Champion Track and Field award for best all-around athlete among other awards and competing in national competitions, Rifle added another recognition to his name.
Last month, he was chosen as the Challenged Athlete of the Year and honored at a banquet and awards ceremony at the Charleston Marriott. This was about the eighth time he was nominated, Rifle said.
"I didn't think I would win this year because I feel like I've done better in the past," he said. "Whatever circumstances, I did win. It was quite an honor. This is probably the most prestigious award in West Virginia challenged sports.
"It's truly an honor to be nominated," Riffle later said. "All of the people that were nominated ... deserve this award -- every one of them. It's just an unbelievable feeling that you can be an amputee, you can lose your limb and be bitter at the world. You have that right but you certainly cheat yourself out of the opportunity to meet other people, not necessarily amputees but other people with problems they face daily with physical disabilities. If I hadn't been involved in sports, I wouldn't have met such tremendous people."
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com