This trooper’s a trouper
Daniel Bowick had dreamed of joining the North Carolina State Highway Patrol since he was a teenager.
Countless times, the 27-year-old Sophia man had pictured himself donning the dashing uniform that simultaneously strikes fear and admiration in the hearts of motorists.
He had envisioned himself sitting confidently behind the wheel of the familiar silver and black patrol car, ever watchful as he protected the state’s highways.
Bowick, a tall, lean man with an easy smile, knew how it would all play out, because he had watched his older brother, Dusty, travel the same road. Dusty had nurtured the same dream as Daniel, graduating from the patrol’s rigorous training academy in early 2010 and policing the highways of Randolph County.
“Seeing Dusty do it, I knew that’s what I wanted,” Daniel says. “You know, you get out on the road and you see troopers, and you think, ‘That’s the man right there — that’s the best of the best.’ That’s why I wanted to do it.”
So this past July, Daniel and a few dozen other troopers-to-be, each of them a bundle of enthusiasm and nerves, began their six-month training at the 130th Highway Patrol Basic Academy in Raleigh. Dusty had told his younger brother what to expect. The demands are tough, he had said, but you have to be tougher.
“It’s not something you can just breeze through,” Daniel says. “You’ve got to really want it.”
And Daniel did.
What he hadn’t counted on, though, was what happened during his fourth week of training.
On Aug. 20, 2012, Trooper Dustin R. “Dusty” Bowick — Daniel’s brother, role model and inspiration — died at the age of 28. A brain tumor he’d been diagnosed with in late 2010, only months after joining the highway patrol, had taken the young man’s life.
And Daniel, who wasn’t even close to becoming a trooper yet, had already lost his backup.
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Daniel is no stranger to adversity.
His first attempt to join the highway patrol had been thwarted before it ever began. In 2009, he had applied for the academy at the same time as Dusty but was not admitted, so he could only watch as his brother pursued the dream they shared.
In the fall of 2010, a routine physical led to a frightening diagnosis: Daniel had been born with only one functioning kidney, and it was going into renal failure. Only 25 at the time, he would need a kidney transplant to survive. The transplant took place in April 2011, when a family friend gave Daniel one of her kidneys.
Then came the news of Dusty’s tumor. Life wasn’t supposed to be this challenging for a man in his mid-20s.
Through it all, Daniel clung to his dream and finally was admitted to the highway patrol academy. Early on in the training, though, it appeared his transplanted kidney might give him trouble. He underwent a kidney biopsy, and it was determined he hadn’t been taking in enough water to keep up with the stress and the physical demands of the academy. Keeping a water bottle constantly at his side took care of the problem.
“There were still weeks I didn’t think I’d make it to Friday,” he says, “but you just keep God on your side and you keep pushing.”
Meanwhile, Dusty was never far from Daniel’s mind. Dusty had undergone surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but the prognosis remained grim. It couldn’t have been a shock when Dusty died, but the news shattered Daniel nonetheless.
That’s when he learned firsthand about the brotherhood of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol — “a brotherhood like no other,” he says — as his instructors, command staff and fellow cadets rallied around him. Lifted by their support and Dusty’s memory, Daniel vowed to remain at the academy and graduate.
“He definitely wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps,” says Daniel’s father, Don Bowick of Trinity. “He said, ‘Daddy, I’ll make it out one of two ways — either I’ll graduate, or they’ll carry me out.’”
Quitting was never an option, Daniel says.
“I had to do it for (Dusty),” he says. “Once he passed away, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m leaving the academy.’ I knew he’d want me to keep pushing on, so that was my drive.”
The dream finally came true March 1, when Daniel and his 30 fellow graduates took the oath of office during a ceremony in Cary.
They were no longer cadets. They were state troopers.
* * * *
Daniel and his family will remember the day as a bittersweet one.
There was plenty to celebrate. By graduating from the academy, Daniel became only the second organ recipient in the patrol’s long history to become a state trooper. Furthermore, Daniel represented his graduating class with a brief speech during the ceremony, an honor bestowed upon him by his fellow cadets.
The memory of Dusty pervaded the day, though, and Daniel acknowledged as much during his speech.
“I know my brother’s here with me today,” he said, fighting to control his emotions. “He saw me start patrol school, and he’s here to see me graduate. He would’ve been so proud of all 31 of us.”
From her seat in the auditorium, Daniel’s mother Debbie squeezed a teddy bear she’d brought with her.
“It’s a ‘Dusty Bear,’” she said later, explaining she had used some of Dusty’s clothes to make several of the bears as a way of honoring her son’s memory. “We keep his spirit alive.”
Following the ceremony and a reception, most of the new troopers walked out to the parking lot to pose for photos with their patrol cars, which were parked in two uniform lines facing each other. Each car had a small name plate inside the front windshield, identifying the trooper assigned to that vehicle.
Daniel’s silver and black cruiser didn’t look any different from the others, but it was. It’s the same car Dusty drove when he was a trooper; now Daniel will drive it as he patrols the highways of Davidson County.
Daniel also found a passenger awaiting him in the front seat — a “Dusty Bear,” a furry, friendly reminder that maybe he hasn’t lost his backup after all.
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