By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s a strange odyssey that has taken 20-year-old Dan Mills from being found in a ditch to center stage in a casino boxing ring, from being pushed around on a gurney by a hospital orderly telling him he’s lucky to be alive to a budding career in law enforcement, from a smashed bloody face and separated vertebrae in his neck to somehow surviving a car accident that would have killed most people.
As Mills stood there with his hand raised last Friday night at Chester Harrah’s Casino, his long journey from recovery received an exclamation point. The Glen Mills, Delaware County resident just finished Mike Haynes (Wilmington, Del.) with a second-round knockout in the pro debut for both fighters, and an emotional wave of where Mills came from to where he is came rushing over him.
“I guess you can say it’s a certain kind of insanity after what I’ve been through, but it’s when I feel the most alive in that ring, I just feel right,” said Mills, a 2010 Penncrest graduate who is a sophomore at Neumann University in Aston majoring in political science with a minor in intelligence analysis.
Life changed for Mills one Saturday night around about 10 p.m. in late-August 2010, just a few days before entering college. He was near his Glen Mills home driving on a narrow dark road when a car coming in the opposite direction swerved slightly into his lane and caused the front wheels of Mill’s Cobalt to lock and force him off the road, flipping twice and leaving him upside down.
When Mills released his safety belt, he landed face first into the windshield of the car. Disoriented from head trauma and blinded by blood, he crawled out of the car, thinking he could walk home. Instead, he wandered in the opposite direction and collapsed. He wound up making it 1,000 feet from the crash, found the next morning by a nearby Glen Mills resident in a ditch, suffering from separated vertebrae in his neck and hypothermia.
It ended a drawn out search for him that involved local police and firemen, since all they found was the abandoned car, deployed air bag and blood stains. Thoughts about the worst ran through his family and friends. He had hundreds of voicemail messages left on his shattered cell phone, his friends telling him to stop joking, to his older sisters pleading and crying.
“The doctors told my mother and grandfather that the accident would have killed most people, and I was pretty beat up,” Mills recalled. “Everyone that I saw in the hospital told me I was pretty much lucky to be alive, but my neck muscles kept me alive. A neck injury like that in a car accident should have severed my neck. I remember the guys pushing my bed around telling me I shouldn’t be alive. The initial x-rays said I wouldn’t be able to play anything again.
“As a young guy, you think of yourself as invincible. I was this 160-pound inside linebacker and offensive guard, and you think you can run through anything. But I was a little messed up for a while. I had head games going on with nightmares of the accident happening over and over again, and dreams that I was dead and watching my family going through it. That’s what hurt me the most.”
It’s what pushed Mills to join the Lenni Heights Volunteer Fire Company after the accident—“I felt I owed them a debt; I needed to do that for them, and seeing all the good work they do I had to join,” said Mills, who goes to college during the day and fire school at night. He also decided on something else … getting back into the ring.
Mills was first introduced to boxing as a child by his maternal grandfather, the late Dr. David Bosacco, orthopedic surgeon at Riddle Hospital in Media. Mills was on the small side growing up, a target of bullies. His grandfather wanted to instill him a sense of self confidence and an ability to protect himself. Boxing turned into a passion, and Mills was ultimately introduced to pro trainer Marty Feldman when he was 12.
“Six or seven months after the accident, I was cleared to train again and the doctors weren’t crazy about it,” Mills said. “I know it sounds crazy, I survive a serious car accident and here I am boxing again. But there’s always that unbreakable bond with my grandfather, and when he passed a few years ago, I had to do it for him. I’d like to think he’s somewhere looking down on me and smiling.
“I have this gift of life, and God’s gift of determination. It’s why I wanted to turn pro and why I was happy as hell that I won my pro debut. My father gave me a big hug afterward and all he said was ‘You did it.’ I’m not stopping. I want to get back into the ring. I don’t see myself as the next Marvin Hagler or Oscar de La Hoya, but I want to take it as far as I can. Getting my college degree is the most important thing in my life, and I consider myself lucky and blessed after what I’ve been through. I don’t know if God has some purpose for me or what, but I shouldn’t have even gotten out of the car that night.”