- Associated Press - Sunday, January 4, 2015

NEW LONDON, Conn. (AP) - An SUV that’s been on many camping trips with Boy Scouts is now in the hands of a local veteran who is starting an athletic clothing line to support disabled veterans and civilians.

“That’s a big truck,” said Zoey, 4, the daughter of Rhode Island Air National Guard Technical Sgt. Steve D’Amico of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, who received the Dodge Durango through the Groton-based nonprofit Work Vessels for Veterans Inc., at the Bob Valenti Automall in Mystic last week.

His business, called Broken Gear, “was founded on the principle of disabled athletes empowering themselves to get back into sports, whether they’re disabled veterans or disabled civilians,” D’Amico said.

D’Amico, who attended the University of Connecticut’s Entrepreneur Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, developed the concept for Broken Gear after suffering an on-duty accident that severely injured his leg and ankle, which led him to medically retire from the military.

“I thought about (how) I’m broken now,” he said. “What can I do?”

Work Vessels for Veterans, founded in 2008 with the donation of a lobster boat to a returning disabled veteran who was starting a commercial clamming business, has equipped more than 1,000 returning veteran entrepreneurs in 48 states with more than $1 million in equipment from tractors to computers to beehives. A Mystic resident, who is a local adviser to a scouting group, donated the Dodge Durango to the organization, which in turn selected D’Amico for the SUV.

“I feel so honored. To me, when I see this vehicle, this is what a Broken Gear vehicle would be. It’s rugged. It’s tough. It’s kind of beat up a little bit, but that’s what we’re looking for. You’ve been through the ringer, but that’s OK, you just press on,” D’Amico said.

The clothing line features gear bags for individuals who have prosthetic hands, among other athletic gear.

“I wear a brace on my leg. I wear it every day. I used to do a lot more sports than I do now. I’m trying to use myself as a model for getting back into the game,” D’Amico said.

The idea is to support disabled veterans and civilians in the pursuit of their athletic goals. Profits from the sale of gear will go toward “buying equipment and getting vets involved in different activities,” D’Amico said.

“For example if a veteran wanted to ride a bike, and didn’t have the funds or the ability, we can sponsor him, get him a bike, get him the Broken Gear jersey and pay for his admission,” he said.

Former state Sen. Cathy Cook, executive director of WVFV, says the only thing that the group asks of D’Amico is to “pay it forward” and, when the time comes, to hire other veterans, which D’Amico promised to do.

D’Amico views his business as a way to “build a fraternity.”

“If someone sees someone wearing a Broken Gear shirt and they know what Broken Gear is, they support Broken Gear, trying to build that common bond between veterans, disabled athletes and people who support them,” he said.

Along with Zoey, D’Amico’s wife, Tricia, was with him when he received the vehicle. “It’s kind of surreal right now. I know it’s going to help him to get more tools to help more vets to make his business succeed, and hopefully employ even more veterans and keep paying it forward,” she said.

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