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This week’s Daniels Pioneer of the Week will inspire and awe you. Neil Duncan, a sophomore real estate and finance student, is also a veteran, double amputee and in his spare time, mountain climber. A Mount Kilimanjaro climber to be exact. He was nominated by the Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, with this elequent submission:

“Neil Duncan transcends what it means to be a Daniels Pioneer. Neil’s feverish pursuit of excellence and awe inspiring determination have continually pushed him to meet challenges and obstacles head on and to passionately search out new ones to conquer.

In early 2003, at the age of 18, Neil heeded his nation’s call and joined the armed forces.  Our country was at war in two theaters and Neil chose to step out in front to volunteer for service in the elite Army Paratroopers.  After completing basic Infantry training and Airborne school, Neil was assigned to the prestigious 173rd Airborne Brigade based out of Vicenza, Italy.  Neil met up with his unit in Kirkuk, Iraq shortly after the unit’s arrival in country.  He served honorably in Iraq for a year.  Neil excelled in military service. He earned the rank of Sergeant and position as an Infantry Fire Team Leader in just under two years.

In 2005 while leading his team on a mounted combat patrol in Afghanistan, a bomb that was buried underneath a dirt road exploded directly underneath Neil’s HUMVEE.  The quick action of his teammates and the quick response of the medevac helicopter saved his life.  One week later Neil woke up at Walter Reed Medical Center in DC to find his jaw had been surgically wired shut and both of his legs had been amputated.  His recovery was tough, but Neil was determined that his injuries were not going to slow him down.  Neil’s internal strength and determination were inspiring to all who had the privilege to spend some time with him, most notably former president George W. Bush.  Before Neil had even learned how to walk on prosthetics, He told the president that he wanted to go running with him. After a long, hard and painful rehabilitation and training, Neil ran with the President.  Neil made numerous trips to the White House and the President was always enthusiastic to see him. Neil has that certain Je ne sais quoi that other people are drawn to and want to be around.

After his 1 ½ year long recovery in DC, Neil headed to Aspen, CO where he began to train for competitive mono-ski racing.  Fully sponsored, mainly by the Wounded Warrior Project (a Non-Profit dedicated to help wounded veterans recover from their injuries), Neil quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the mono-ski racing arena and was looking very strong to gain a spot in the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics. Unfortunately, a devastating crash on the slopes tore Neil’s shoulder and left him with only one good limb for 5 months.  It took a very invasive procedure to correct the damage. After he recuperated, Neil decided he could not risk losing the use of an arm so he set his sights on Denver and a higher education. Neil still enjoys flying down the slopes, just not at racing speeds.

While Neil was ski racing and later maintaining a 4.0 at the Community College of Denver, He was gone most of the time traveling all over the map speaking at various events fulfilling his role as a resource developer for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Neil has always cherished the opportunity to give back to an organization that gave so much to him. Neil’s ability to connect with and inspire an audience always leaves people wanting more. Neil’s inspiring story, excellent networking skills, charisma, and positive outlook have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for the WWP and have garnered him numerous job offers. Job offers from major real estate developers on the East Coast offering to bring Neil on salary, teach him everything they know about the business and groom him to become a partner. Job offers that most DCB grads would jump at.  Neil has received multiple offers for what he would describe as his dream job. He has turned them down due to his passion for learning. Neil wants to pursue his education from the Burns School of Real Estate at Daniels before he accepts any of those offers.

While Neil is not in class or attending speaking engagements, he is finding ways to push his own limits, physically and mentally.  In the summer of 2009, Neil traveled to England and competed as part of a sailboat crew in the 2009 Rolex FastNet Race. After a successful finish, Neil flew from England to Africa where he joined up with an expedition to summit Kilimanjaro. Due to poor planning the team was not able to summit. Instead of returning defeated or with an “oh well, I tried” attitude, Neil returned to Denver determined that he could do it and that he would do it.  Identifying the flaws with the original plan, the very day he got back Neil took control and began planning an expedition to summit Kilimanjaro in August 2010. With the sponsorship of Disabled Sports USA, this week, Neil returned to Denver from Africa victorious, having reached the summit with two other wounded veterans.  What is remarkable to me is that to Neil, it wasn’t about whether he could do it or would do it. It was only a question of when he would reach the summit.

Neil is always pushing forward and always looking to embrace new opportunities.  He gives no heed to the fear of the unknown or of failure. If he decides to do something it will receive 100% of his effort. Failure is not an option. For that matter mediocrity is not an option for Neil.  This is why I believe Neil is a true Daniels Pioneer.”