Paralympic champion returns to alma mater to share inspiring story

Dan Cnossen shared his experiences with the students.
Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 3:10 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - On Wednesday, students at Shawnee Heights got the opportunity to hear from a six-time Paralympian and Navy Seal, who happens to also be a SHHS alum.

Dan Cnossen, a Topeka native, graduated from Shawnee Heights in 1998. After high school, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and became a Seal after he graduated from the Academy in 2002.

Cnossen lost his legs in 2009 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) during a mission. He has since been awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor.

“In the beginning, I got injured in 2009 and I did not really feel comfortable talking about my experiences of my injury, it’s kind of like a clam shell, but I am slowly opening up more,” said Cnossen. “In addition, I am not really a person anyone would have thought would get into public speaking, but the more I share my story I realize that it does something for me. It is cathartic in that way but if I can pass along some of the lessons I have learned to the next generation then...that is really a duty that I should be doing and take that upon me to pass along these lessons to try to help kids.”

He earned a Master of Public Administration in 2016 from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

On Wednesday, Cnossen’s message to students was to face their challenges head-on. The presentation was part of Advisor’s Excel’s Inspire-U series, where guest speakers visit and share their experiences with staff members and students.

“I tried to convey this at the beginning of my talk to the kids that anything I was going to talk about today it all began here in Kansas,” Cnossen said. “I had a foundation where I grew up on a farm that has been in my family since the 1870s. The foundation was built when I came to Shawnee Heights. I came from my classmates and friends, it came from my teammates, my soccer team, it came from my coach, coaches, and it came from my teachers and that every phase of life, we are always part of a team and identifying the people that you can support, and support you, and feeling like you are part of a team really can make all the difference.”