Inspiring Okeechobee: Daniel Rickards is a man on a mission

OKEECHOBEE — “It would be easy to get very self-centered and depressed. He has allowed the Lord to bring him out of that. He lives life normally, giving back to the community and helping people.” These are the words of a newlywed Daniel Rickard’s wife, Jessica.

How true for Daniel, who likes to be called Dan. While Dan appears to be “confined” to a wheelchair, in no way does he live life confined. If you have the privilege of meeting Dan, you are instantly friends! Often Dan handles things with humor and has never met a stranger.

Dan is the third of four children and mom Linda describes Dan as an amazing man. “Not only because of what he has accomplished after his paralyzing accident, which is absolutely incredible, but also because of who he is,” she explained. “Daniel has always been very determined and I believe that is a trait that helped him in his physical recovery. He is loyal and faithful. He truly cares for the people around him and will do whatever he can to help others. He is considerate and patient.”

Mom continues to talk about how Dan takes time to talk with people about his wheelchair, and how it all works. She says, “He does this with a smile. He accepts his physical limitations, while continuing to press forward. Most people look at someone in a wheelchair and do not realize all the situations, challenges, and health issues that being a paraplegic can bring. Daniel handles them with grace.

Daniel Rickard is with stepchildren Brylynn, Trayvin, Zayin, Dan and Hoss, the dog.

“He has dedicated his life to making others’ lives more fulfilling and making sure that they know the Truth of the Gospel. It has been a blessing — albeit overwhelming at times — to be able to walk this journey with my son Daniel from birth to the man that he has become.”

Daniel recently married and now has three young step children. Linda concluded, “… I love watching him learn more in his journey of being a husband and father. To know Daniel is to become his friend. He does not meet many strangers; he will draw you in and leave you grateful for the experience of spending time with him.”

Wife Jessica says that she “knew of” Daniel in high school, while Dan insists that he knew her.

Jessica moved away from Okeechobee, moving back a few years ago. What Jessica did not know when she moved back in 2015, was that she would come to know Dan. Jessica works at Okeechobee Christian Academy as does Dan’s mom, Linda. Jessica reports that when Dan would come to help his mom with something, that’s when they “officially met.” The two married in March of this year.

Jessica and Dan Rickard, in the photo above, were married in March of this year.

Jessica notes, Dan is “amazing with the kids (her three children from a previous relationship) and he treats them as his own.

“He loves them with all his heart and they love him,” she said.

When Dan does get free time, Jessica said he loves to fish and attend gun shows. They don’t get a lot of free time as the kids are ages 6, 5 and 4! Jessica is very proud of the work her husband does in the community and notes that often she is home caring for the kids so he can be out in the community, although they do join him at times.

Colleague and friend, Courtney Moyett has this to say about Dan. “As you are aware I am not from Okeechobee, so when I met Daniel I knew nothing about his story or why he was in a wheelchair. I met Daniel at a CCC [Community Collaborative] meeting and I didn’t see a wheelchair. I saw this guy who had a zest for life, was mouthy like me, liked to break the rules at meetings, was a jokester, and spoke out of turn. A rebel at heart but all clean fun. I would always catch the elevator with him after the meetings, because I was lazy and couldn’t handle the stairs at the school board office. One day Daniel said that he was looking for someone to help him with OSAC [Okeechobee Substance Abuse Coalition], and just like that was when I was gifted my work husband. Working with Daniel usually is not work; we both like to crack jokes and are passionate about the youth of Okeechobee. So much that now my youth tell me that they are only coming to my events if ‘Dan the Man is going to be there.’ If you were to speak with Daniel over the phone you would (1) never get a word in edgewise (2) never know he was in a wheelchair.

The work Daniel does with the Substance Abuse Coalition is his passion, not a job. Daniel truly wants to make Okeechobee a better place for the youth of Okeechobee and has a passion for making relationships in the community. Daniel never asks for help for anything, and offers his help with any project anyone else is working on. The more time I spend with Daniel, the more I see his desires to make sure other people know they are appreciated. I always hear him thanking other providers or people in the community for their work and will never take credit for the work his does, just saying he is happy to help.”

Courtney continued, “… it is interesting to note that I worked very closely with Daniel for over a year before I knew anything about his accident. I had heard he was in a car accident, but that was all I ever knew. I figured that the details were not important and that in time, if Daniel wanted me to know he would tell me. You will never hear him talk of his accident or the events of that night. Now that I know the details, I have no idea how he doesn’t have a heart filled with hate due to the way the events of the accident played out. What I do know is that Daniel chooses to be positive, and give all the glory to God.”

John Hales, a father figure to Dan, has known him since Dan was very young. John has taught many classes, with Dan as his student. He said, “The biggest thing about him [Dan] is he wants to love other people.” John continues that Dan struggled with depression after his accident, which led to challenges with addiction. Hales notes, “It’s been impressive for me to watch him after his wreck. He suffered from four to five years of depression and didn’t want to live. When he realized that his life had a purpose, and that purpose was to be here and live a life to love others,” John said he received a call from Dan to come over for a visit. When John arrived Dan told him, “I’m ready to get on with what I’ve got to do.” John said that for Dan that mission has been to love and care about people. John is encouraged by Dan’s “walk through sobriety, while teaching and talking with people about addiction.”

When the opportunity for Dan to get involved with the Okeechobee Substance Abuse Coalition came along, Dan leapt at the opportunity to work with youth in our community to be a positive role model for our kids. “He never complains about what he can’t do. He is very inspirational. He is involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and anytime he has an opportunity to share, with kids or adults, he does to be a positive role model,” report Hales. After an event hosted at the bowling alley for kids recently, Dan’s focus was on the next event and how to make it better for the kids, all on his mission to let our kids know they are loved.

Dan changes obstacles to opportunities and our community is a better place. If you have not had the pleasure of meeting him, make it a point the next time you see him out and about town, to stop and linger for a conversation with this inspiring man who is changing Okeechobee with a smile, a handshake, a hug, a laugh and a whole lot of love. Thanks for inspiring us Daniel Rickards.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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