Dan Bigley barely survived being mauled by a grizzly on the Russian River in 2003, a horrific attack with a dramatic rescue, an attack that left him blind.
As he lay on the ground, fading in and out of consciousness, it could have gone either way. At some point he made the decision to fight, and he told himself that if he lived, he would never look back and regret it.
And he hasn't.
"But I'm not just a survivor," he says. "I am thriving."
Today Bigley, 31, is married, has a son and is working on his master's degree in social work at the University of Alaska Anchorage with the help of current technologies and his guide dog, Anderson. He also has an internship working with emotionally disturbed youths and their families, does inspirational speaking engagements around town and is writing a book about the attack and its impact on his life.
For these and other reasons, Bigley has been named Alaskan of the Year by the Governor's Committee on Employment and Rehabilitation of People With Disabilities, for his "strength in pursuing his dream, his remarkable courage and unending spirit."
The award came as a big surprise to Bigley.
"I got this call one day; it was a message that someone from the governor's committee called, and I was like, 'Huh. I wonder what that's about?' "
"I called back and she said, 'I have some really good news.' I was kind of shocked and obviously incredibly honored. It's a big title, and it was difficult for me to think it was really me."
Bigley will receive one of 10 Governor's Committee awards in Fairbanks on Tuesday in a ceremony kicking off National Disability Employment Month.
"Though he has encountered challenges in his pursuit of a graduate degree and a career, his optimistic, can-do attitude has broken down barriers and paved new directions for others experiencing a disability," wrote the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in nominating Bigley for the award.
"He continues to amaze and uplift those of us fortunate enough to have been touched by his unending spirit and desire to help others."
The Center is celebrating with Bigley on Friday from 3:30-5 p.m. Those interested in attending and hearing him speak should call the Center, 248-7770, as space is limited.
Others receiving committee awards include:
Governor's Award: The Anchorage Police Department's Crisis Intervention Team
Small Employer of the Year: Anchorage's Century 16
Large Employer of the Year: Fred Meyers on Dimond Boulevard
Youth Award: Royal Henderson III of Haines.
Carolyn Peter Volunteerism Award: Janel Wright of Anchorage
Chairperson Award: Jane McIntosh of Anchorage
Hewitt Memorial Award: Jackie Bisbee of Fairbanks
Removal of Attitudinal Barriers Award: Jay Hartman of Fairbanks
Barrier Free Design Award: Matanuska Telephone Association's Palmer office.