By: Kaylah Jackson
On a hilltop in the Tangi Valley, located in the south of Wardak Province in Afghanistan, is where Daniel Lister’s military career took a turn for the worst. While patrolling the hilltop, looking for IED’s, Lister found one in the worst way possible—he stepped on it.
While hit, but not unconscious, he instructed the rest of his soldiers to retrieve mine detectors to locate the other devices but realized shortly after, he suffered serious injuries.
“The last thing I remember was my Sergeant Major saying to me was ‘rest easy, sapper.'” The explosion completely removed his left leg, his right leg was ripped from his ankle to his hip and left more injuries in his arms and torso.” I had to sit there on this hilltop and recognize my individual mortality,”said Lister.
Lister comes from a line of combat engineers, so it was fitting he would become one too. After enlisting in the Army in 2002, he found a purpose, but never imagined enduring an injury would require him to relearn how to walk.
“In all of my combat experience, I was always under this impression that I was either gonna go home or die. It was never this idea that I was gonna be maimed.”
Lister was comfortable overseas. “The world made more sense to me downrange,” he said, but the transition from soldier to civilian was challenging and without his tight-knit military family he felt isolated, and found solace in drugs and alcohol.
“I was increasingly destructive, increasingly violent towards people I didn’t know. I’d go out and drink and pull guns on people because that was the way my mind learned to operate.” Lister knew this wasn’t a way to live, but really, a way to die. So, he created a new identity—in an unlikely combination of a VA trauma-focused behavior therapy program and sneakers.
“I had to mourn who I was, the death of that individual. Who I was ultimately died on that hilltop and who I am was reborn later,” he said. “I decided to get sober and I was like ‘what do I do now?’ I had a phone, I had Instagram and I had lot of shoes.”
As an avid sneaker collector and wearer, the human connection from sharing interests between fellow sneaker lovers has allowed him to be reintroduced to civilian life. 270 pairs later, Lister has a YouTube channel and weekly live show called Monday Midsole where he talks culture, releases, and his latest purchases with four other men, a group who have also helped him through instances of PTSD and isolation. On social media, he goes by “OneLeggedLister,” an almost ode to his combat injury and newfound identity.
Before making friendships and finding a group of people he could relate to locally, he found camaraderie with fellow sneaker enthusiasts online and abroad. “Me finding that community has been a lifesaver for me. I found a brotherhood and a sisterhood there that has allowed me to reintegrate on some level.”
His shoe interest has taken him all over the country for meet-ups and conventions and he also uses his platform as a veteran to speak to students, bridging the gap of understanding between soldiers and civilian. Rather than a simple “thank you for your service,” which Lister describes as “empty and hollow,” he encourages people to ask veterans about their experience because people often don’t know what to say.
“Getting to understand a vet, in my my mind is understanding part of your country and not only that, but understanding your community,” he said.
More than a combat veteran, but a father, and full-time student, he encourages transitioning service members to find their own crowd: “Check your pride and seek help initially, so you can find peace with the memories: mourn who you were and become who you are.” In other words, take off the combat boots and—in Lister’s case—try on a new shoe.