In this month’s issue of Alaska Sporting Journal we have a package on the University of Alaska Fairbanks rifle team, which has quietly been a dynasty with 10 national championships. The Nanooks were ranked second in the nation when they hosted the NCAA Championships last weekend in Fairbanks.
UAF finished second to No. 1 West Virginia:
Alaska won the smallbore championship last night, holding off West Virginia by an impressive twelve shots, but it was unable to overcome the top air rifle team in the nation, as the Mountaineers rallied to defeat the Nanooks by two overall shots, 4,702 to 4,700.
“Coming in we knew that we were probably the top smallbore team in the country,” said head coach Dan Jordan. “We shot really well yesterday, but we came up just short today. West Virginia shot a phenomenal air gun today. We can’t do anything more than what we did. Both teams shot really well this weekend.”
In third place overall was Texas Christian University, who matched Nebraska’s 4,667 points, but hit 13 more 10x-shots to clinch the tiebreaker. The Cornhuskers did place in the smallbore competition, as they were in third place after last night’s action. Jacksonville State was the Championships’ fifth-place team and also went home with a trophy, as it finished in third place in the air rifle portion. Kentucky’s tally of 4,657 was good for sixth-place, while the United States Air Force Academy and Murray State placed seventh and eighth, respectively.
Alaska’s Tim Sherry placed eighth overall after finals, to lead the Nanooks, following up on his fifth-place individual finals in smallbore, last night.
Maren Prediger of West Virginia was the top individual following finals, as she topped a full contingent of Mountaineer medalists. West Virginia’s Michael Bamsey placed second overall and Garrett Spurgeon was the third best shooter. Spurgeon was also named the NCAA Championship’s Top Overall Performer.
Sherry’s 596 was the highest shot total of any Nanook, qualifying him for finals. Mats Eriksson and Ryan Anderson were Alaska’s next best shooters, as they each scored 592 points. Lorelie Stanfield and Sagen Maddalena rounded out the Nanooks, with respective shot totals of 589 and 588.
Here’s our story on the team’s coach, Jordan, who was paralyzed in a climbing accident but does not let his physical limitations slow him down from coaching or enjoying the outdoors:
By Chris Cocoles
University of Alaska rifle team coach Dan Jordan says he really hadn’t been challenged much by the time he’d reached the summer after his sophomore year at the same school.
In May 1999, Jordan had just completed his sophomore year on the Nanooks rifle team when he and a close friend and teammate, Amber Darland, went rock climbing north of Fairbanks.
“I was climbing and my safety pieces broke out, so I fell about 60 feet,” says Jordan who was asked by rescuers, was he allergic to anything. In a Denver Post story from a few years back, he recalled deadpanning an answer that would reflect on his ability to handle such a life-altering tragedy: “Rocks.”
He was paralyzed throughout his lower body.
JORDAN GREW UP in rural Franktown, Colo., not far from Colorado Springs. His family wasn’t into hunting or guns, but young Dan “was infatuated with hunting and shooting from the time I was a little kid.”
His parents put Jordan into the local 4-H club so he could learn gun safety from those who did know something about firearms
He would spend endless hours shooting targets attached to hay bales in nearby cow pastures. He’d hunt with a fellow football player and his father, who was their high school coach. Jordan referred to his coach as a “mountain man” who took the boys on an epic elk and deer hunt and slept in teepees; they wore buckskins and lived out a Grizzly Adams/Jeremiah Johnson experience.
“In the winter we shot in cow and chicken barns at the fairgrounds,” Jordan says. “When I went to the state fair and saw Olympic-style shooting, I was enthralled by it.”
Jordan went to Alaska for college and was an All-American in both smallbore and air rifle in 1998 and 1999. He didn’t have a care in the world – until May 23, 1999, the date of the accident.
“I’ve always looked at it as my life was very easy before that,” he says. “I was pretty athletic and school was always easy for me. I never had to work hard at anything. So I looked at it as I finally had a challenge in my life; it’s something I’m going to have to work at.”
THREE DAYS AFTER his fall, Jordan was flown closer to home in Colorado, but after surgery and spending almost two months rehabbing in a Denver hospital – “I got tired of being there,” he said – he told his parents he wanted to return to school in Fairbanks that August. Mom and Dad understandably wanted him to delay going back so soon and adjust to life in his wheelchair and skip a semester.
“My kind of mentality was, I would rather come up in August or September and learn how to negotiate my way around, rather than come back up in January where everything was snowy and cold,” Jordan says.
“I came back somewhere around Aug. 26, got all settled in and told my parents I was leaving to go moose hunting. So one of my teammates took me and we went moose hunting and slept in the back of his Suburban. So I guess you can say I got right back into it.”
That included training for and competing in the Paralympic Games. At the 2004 Athens Paralympics, Jordan left Greece with a silver medal in the smallbore three-position shoot.
The drive to regain the post-fall form and be accurate enough to compete in the Paralympics, let alone make it to a medal ceremony, became an obsession, much like every other obstacle he suddenly had to dodge.
“I never did it for anyone else,” he says. “I love shooting.”
And now he regularly hunts and fishes around Alaska from his wheelchair.
“One of the biggest things in life that makes me happy is just being outside,” he says. “Even when I was in the hospital days after surgery, my parents would get me in a wheelchair and just take me outside just to sit and see some sunshine.”
Steve Jordan would take his son fishing in the months after the fall, so you can imagine how emotional even a stoic Dan became on that first Alaskan moose hunt.
“Being able to come back and get back into hunting again, that’s what recharges my batteries.”
GET TO KNOW Dan Jordan and you hope you can come away thinking similarly to his attitude. To hell with the challenges his condition might have prevented. To hell with the “why me” reaction so many of us might have screamed out if something of this magnitude was inflicted upon us.
“I never had a depression phase; I never went through any kind of anything,” Jordan says. “After surgery when I woke up, nobody had to me that I was paralyzed. You knew it. It was just, ‘OK, now what?’”
It started with the friend who watched his fall in horror. Amber Darland and Dan Jordan were already close friends, and it was Dan who had been futilely “kind of chasing her at the time” before the accident.
“Then when I got hurt, she kind of started chasing me and I didn’t want anything to do with her,” says Jordan, who was a year ahead of her in school and moved back to Colorado after graduation. They were separated again for a time being, but eventually their paths crossed back in Fairbanks for good.
“It took about 10 years of chasing each other,” he says.
Now they’re married, and Jordan has happily accepted that his accident wouldn’t define who he is.
“Things may take a little bit longer and I may have to get creative with how I do some things,” he says. “And there are some things I just flat out can’t do. But that’s part of it. So be it.”