Biking helped USA Paralympian Freddie De Los Santos with PTSD, and now he sees his incapacity as a blessing

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Editor’s observe: The next story consists of mentions of suicidal ideas. If you happen to or anybody you realize is battling suicidal ideas, the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the Veterans Disaster Line is 1-800-273-8255 (press 1), and you’ll textual content HELLO to 741741 to achieve the Disaster Textual content Line. 

When somebody first advised doing a marathon to Freddie De Los Santos, he thought they have been making enjoyable of him.

De Los Santos, now 51, was being handled at a navy hospital following a rocket assault whereas he was serving in Afghanistan in 2009. As a result of his accidents, surgeons needed to amputate his proper leg above the knee.

What De Los Santos didn’t know on the time was they have been severe and that he may do it with a handcycle. It was the beginning of a brand new journey from the Dominican Republic-born rider that might lead him to turn out to be a part of Staff USA’s Paralympic squad in Tokyo.

“I signed as much as do the marathon with a handcycle and it took me like three hours,” De Los Santos advised VeloNews from the Staff USA resort in Japan. “After the marathon, I couldn’t transfer for 2 weeks and I used to be like, I’ll by no means do this once more. However guess what occurred? The following 12 months I signed up for the Boston Marathon and that’s after I realized, wow, I simply did a marathon and that’s fairly spectacular.”

After that first race, De Los Santos had caught the biking bug and he took half in a number of occasions organized for service members. He additionally began using socially and was ultimately persuaded to compete in a rising variety of occasions.

“I used to be getting quicker and so I began doing like nationwide and native races. And it began to be a part of my rehab after which it turned a ardour. After which that zeal turned a lifestyle. That journey, that zeal turned out to be knowledgeable profession. It’s bizarre,” he laughed.

In addition to serving to him bodily get well, taking over biking has aided De Los Santos mentally as nicely. Being “blown up” in Afghanistan and shedding a limb has had an enduring impression on him, as has the lack of a number of of his buddies and comrades throughout fight excursions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When he returned to America for therapy following the incident, he needed to take care of quite a lot of ache and trauma. Biking has been a method of processing that and turning into an lively member of his group in Hopewell Junction, New York.

It has additionally allowed him to see his incapacity not as a limitation however as one thing good.

“Biking has turn out to be my coping mechanism to take care of my nervousness, my PTSD. So, that sense, it has given me a brand new lifestyle,” De Los Santos mentioned. “It has been essentially the most rewarding expertise to have the ability to compete at this degree, regardless of my incapacity.

“Once I acquired wounded, I used to be very suicidal. I used to be in a hospital for 2 years and I just about needed to discover ways to speak, the best way to stroll, and achieve self-confidence. So, I had quite a lot of issues as a result of I remoted myself from everyone, I used to be very aggressive. I used to be taking quite a lot of medicine.

“Twelve years in the past, I used to be going by the worst time of my life and now I can say that my incapacity has been a blessing. It sounds humorous, however to me, it has been a blessing as a result of I’ve a distinct perspective about life. I’m nearer to God, I’ve a greater relationship with my household, and I’m in one of the best form of my life. Biking has helped me to include myself in society in very constructive methods, socially, mentally, and bodily.”

Changing into an artist and going for gold

Freddie De Los Santos competing at the Invictus Games in 2014
Freddie De Los Santos competing on the Invictus Video games in 2014 (Photograph: Jordan Mansfield/Getty Photos for Invictus Video games)

Biking shouldn’t be the one exercise that De Los Santos has used to maneuver on from essentially the most tough interval of his life. Throughout his restoration, he additionally picked up portray and pictures after somebody from the Veterans Affiliation advised he participate in artwork remedy.

De Los Santos has at all times had a creative aspect as he educated and labored as a graphic designer earlier than becoming a member of the navy, however he didn’t wish to do it. He needed to be satisfied to take a category but it surely has turn out to be one other ardour of his and he has used it as a method of displaying his family and friends a number of the emotions he has struggled to say out loud.

“One way or the other they satisfied me as a result of I didn’t wish to go,” De Los Santos advised VeloNews. “I used to be very suicidal, and I tried suicide just a few occasions, so the artwork remedy was going to be good for me.

“I didn’t wish to inform my household what I used to be going by. I felt like I’ve a demon inside me and I couldn’t do away with that demon and I couldn’t speak to my household and my youngsters and my group. I needed them to know, however I used to be afraid to allow them to know, verbally. So, my portray turned a method for me to specific myself. The extra I used to be portray, the higher I used to be feeling.

“I used to be capable of put all my nightmares, my perception, my frustration, all the pieces I went by after I was in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

As time has moved on, De Los Santos’ work have modified of their content material. There’s nonetheless some ache, however different themes are creating. By means of it, his household has been capable of perceive what he has been feeling, too.

De Los Santos’ household is an enormous a part of his life and has performed an enormous function in his new profession as knowledgeable athlete.

“They’re so excited,” De Los Santos mentioned. “My spouse is my largest coach. My son is 22, my daughter is 26 and they’re so pleased with me. They are saying “dad, you might be wonderful”. I don’t see myself like that, however they’re at all times pampering me. They’re at all times combating to take me to the airport, additionally they look out for me. My son works at a motorcycle store, the place they repair my bike. So, he’s at all times on high of my gear, ensuring all the pieces’s good.”

The Tokyo Video games are De Los Santos’ second Paralympics after he made his debut on the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

In Brazil, he took fourth within the highway race and seventh within the time trial within the H5 class, however he has gained much more expertise since then and he desires much more this time round. He will probably be racing the identical occasions in Tokyo on Tuesday and Wednesday subsequent week.

“My purpose is to win gold. I’ve been coaching actually arduous for these races arising,” he mentioned. “My self-confidence is fairly excessive, and my gear has been upgraded. Bodily, mentally, I really feel unbelievable.

“Since Rio, I turned extra tactically higher when it comes to racing, I dropped like 25 kilos. So I’m fitter. I had so many World Cups, so I’ve quite a lot of expertise.”