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Cape Girardeau man returns to favorite hobbies following serious motorcycle crash

Updated: May. 6, 2021 at 8:40 PM CDT
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CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - Cape Girardeau native and retired Naval Captain Dave Cantrell had lived a life filled with thrills, challenges and above all else serving his country.

From a high school football captain, to a decorated naval officer, to a man who has mastered enough sports and hobbies for two lifetimes.

At the age of 59, Dave Cantrell has truly been there and done that.

We caught up with him at one of his favorite projects, the Cape Girardeau Avenue of Flags.

“Our thought process was, we wanted people to find the names and then we took some quotes from different generations, all those service flags are raised,” he said.

Dave Cantrell has played a major role in growing the Avenue of Flags from 300 when he took over in 2016 to close to 775 today.

However, his successful journey took a tragic turn.

“June 9th, obviously, I’ll never forget that day of 2019. My brother in law, it was the 6th game of the Stanley Cup and he was going to have a BBQ,” he said.

Dave already had a Blues hat, but also wanted a Blues shirt for the party, so he jumped on his Harley and headed to the store.

“I was merging onto Independence from Kingshighway and the gentleman, who by the way is a fantastic guy and I hold no angst or remorse against him, and he didn’t see me,” Cantrell said. “He was coming from the K-mart parking area and he had to cross three lanes and had to cross pretty quick, I guess, to get in between the east and west traffic. He just hit me dead center, all I saw was a silver flash. I had avoided mistakes like that hundreds of times from riding my whole life and just didn’t see him in time to maneuver. Next thing I knew, I woke up and I was on the street and saw my leg and I knew it was done.”

So in a flash, the man who seemed unstoppable saw his life come to a screeching halt.

“The month and a half I was in the hospital they would have to change the sheets at night, because I would sweat so much in nightmares,” he said. “And I would wake up every time thinking it was a bad dream.”

Cantrell fell into a state of depression. As a Navy parachutist, he felt he was free falling into an abyss, until a conversation with his wife Stacey changed everything.

“She said, ‘I want you to see something.’ It was Flag Day, and you guys livestreamed it, when they were putting the flags up. There was more people in the community who came out in support of Avenue of Flags and me, that I’ve ever seen. One of my buddies had t-shirts made reppin DC, it stopped my free fall,” Cantrell said. “It was almost like I deployed my shoot because I was lifted back up and it felt that way. This place in a way saved my life.”

And from that point on, Cantrell attacked his rehab with full force, climbing one hurdle after other until he crossed the finish line.

“In May of 2020 I got my prosthetic on with the help of my good buddy Andy. I say doctors save your life, your prosthesis gives you your life back,” he said.

While Dave Cantrell’s big passion in life is the Avenue of Flags, following his rebab, he decided to return to one of his favorite activities.

“I just started playing pickleball again, and like a lot of things starting over,” he said. “But people out here were super friendly. They welcomed me back, playing again and it’s great to be back playing again. And I don’t care if I’ve got this, I’m starting to win again.”

“David is going to go out there and try to win and I love that about him and he’s a good player,” said Mike Litz, Dave Cantrell’s pickleball partner.

Ronnie McCormick started the pickleball movement in southeast Missouri in 2014. He said he hasn’t seen anything like Cantrell’s story.

“No I haven’t, no I haven’t. I haven’t seen anyone come back and be terrific like he is,” he said.

We asked Cantrell what goes through his mind when he wins at the end.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “Just accomplishment, but even if I lose and tap those paddles, still I’m in the game and that’s what I want to be. I’m not going to sit the sidelines in anything, I’m going to be in the game!”

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