Steve D’Amico, of South Kingstown, realized he was broken when an injury forced him to retire from the Rhode Island Air National Guard after 18 years.
“We were all gears in the war machine,” he says now. “Some of the gears were broken.”
Now the former rugby and hockey player has created a clothing line, Broken Gear Wear, for injured veteran athletes, disabled athletes and the people who support them.
The company’s motto is “I am broken, not beaten” and features T-shirts with sayings such as “I am broken and I play,” or ”… and I ride,” or ”… and I run,” plus hats and stickers with the Broken Gear logo.
He also sells pockets that hang on a belt or hook to a wheelchair. Sean O’Hara, a South Kingstown friend who moved to San Diego, he said, makes them from decommissioned camouflage uniforms. D’Amico decided to carry them after reading a story about a man whose prosthetic hand wouldn’t fit in his pants pocket.
D’Amico, 42, a stay-at-home dad since he was medically retired in 2013, has had a lot of help in starting his business.
In October, he was one of 25 disabled veterans who attended The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at the University of Connecticut, one of eight universities nationwide that offer the program. Besides free lodging and meals and an immersion program with business professors, entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 CEOs, he received a laptop to help him get his business going.
On Friday, he’s being given a 2001 silver Dodge Durango at the Valenti Auto Mall in Mystic, Conn.
He said he was humbled by being selected to get the Durango, which has seating to carry seven runners to road races and plenty of room for sports equipment. “When I saw the pictures,” he said, he realized “that’s what I envisioned a Broken Gear vehicle to be. It looks like it was made to haul what guys who do sports would want.”
His company has a philanthropic side. He wants to use it to help other injured veterans, by raising money to donate sports equipment to disabled athletes.
On his website, www.brokengearwear.com, he has announced his first fundraiser, “Sweat for the Vets,” a kickboxing event at Pride Martial Arts and Fitness in South Kingstown on Jan. 14.
The Durango was donated by a Mystic resident through Work Vessels for Veterans, a nonprofit organization based in Noank, Conn. The charity was founded when it donated a lobster boat to an injured veteran starting a clamming operation in Narragansett Bay. Since then, Work Vessels for Veterans says it has equipped more than 1,000 veterans in 48 states with such vessels as trucks and tractors, cars and computers, farms and fencing, barns and beehives, trailers, hayrakes, ski equipment, goats, greenhouses, green technology and hundreds of laptops.
The technical sergeant whose three, six-year stints with the Air National Guard included a deployment in Qatar, was injured in 2010 while serving full time active duty in Rhode Island. His job was to go around “to schools to talk about the dangers of drugs and alcohol,” he said.
His injury occurred when he slipped on black ice and broke his leg, with a spiral fracture to his left ankle. “The pain never really went away,” he said, “apparently because my ankle can’t properly rotate.” He was eventually diagnosed with a frayed peroneal tendon. “I wear a brace on my left leg,” he said. Fortunately, the injury does not impede his ability to drive a vehicle with automatic transmission.
A doctor at the Providence VA Medical Center told him about the entrepreneurship program for injured veterans.
“It was amazing,” D’Amico said. “You’re there for nine days, 18 hours a day, on your business. At the end of the time, you have to do a pitch.”
His pitch won a prize for Most Innovative Business Concept.
One result of the bootcamp, he said, was reigniting “that sense of brotherhood” he found in the military. He keeps in touch with the classmates who helped advise him at bootcamp. Some of them will be profiled on his website, as an athlete of the month who persevered through a disability.
D’Amico, who grew up in North Kingstown, lives with his wife, Tricia, and their 4-year-old daughter, Zoey.
The business was started “on a bare-bones budget,” he said. He doesn’t expect to draw a salary for a long time.
“I want to build the business, build the brand and get the proverbial gears turning.”