Cyclists helping one of their own
A tale of ultimate survival and human kindness, Damian Lopez Alphonso's story is one that needs to be told. He's not only captured the hearts of those he's met and raced with; he's inspired an outpouring of support from the cycling community at large.
At age 13, while trying to retrieve a kite caught on an electrical wire in his native Cuba, Damian Lopez Alphonso was electrocuted with 13,000 volts of electricity - the voltage equivalence of what it takes to move a New York City subway car.
He spent 52 days on life support following the accident and has had dozens of surgeries - some life-saving - since his teens. Doctors are still baffled by the fact that he's alive.
But Damian, now 34, hasn't allowed these seeming setbacks to slow him down - literally.
Although he lost both of his hands and uses no adaptive devices, Damian is an accomplished cyclist, who finished first at the Coppa 8 de Marzo Time Trial, second at the Tour of Havana de Este, and third at the Criterium de Havana against some of the best athletes in his region.
He learned to ride his bike by carefully resting the remains of his arms on upturned handlebars.
Tracy Lea, a fellow cyclist and a Team Fuji ambassador, first witnessed this balancing act at the 2002 Pan American Championships in Cuba. Mesmerized by how he could compete without prosthetics and not in the Paralympics realm but against some of the best able-bodied cyclists in the world, Lea decided she wanted to help him in any way she could.
After much lobbying with the Cuban government, Lea secured a visa for Damian, and he arrived in the U.S. on December 6. So when Damian arrived in New York, a brand new Fuji Roubaix ACR was waiting for him, and Lea took him to Echelon Cycles, a Fuji dealer on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, for a full fitting.
With his new bike in tow as well as some new cycling gear provided by Louis Garneau and Hincapie Clothing. Damian set off for the NYU Langone Center.
After undergoing a week of extensive physical and psychological exams, the NYU doctors determined that Damian is eligible for prosthetics and facial reconstructive surgery.
Elated by the news but knowing that neither she nor Damian's family could pay for the surgery and prosthetics, Lea reached out to the cycling community. Several private individuals (Lea's fellow cyclists) have since offered to cover Damian's travel expenses; the National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction has offered to pay for the surgery; and the Achilles Foundation, a non-profit organization that enables disabled and able-bodied athletes to train together, has offered to pay for his prosthetics.
"Everyone has stepped up," said Lea. "He's achieved incredible acceptance in the cycling community.''
"When people have a chance to meet him, it's a game changer. People who see him ride his bike...it keeps our lives in perspective," she added.
Damian's surgery is planned for late January 2011, and he will be fitted for prosthetics following the surgery.
With aspirations of qualifying for the 2012 Cycling Paralympics and racing in the New York City Marathon (the Achilles Foundation has already extended a personal invitation), Damian's dreams are big.
It's because of Lea and the cycling community's generous contributions that Damian is where he is today. But it's going to take a lot more to see Damian's dreams realized. If you'd like to help Damian, please contact Tracy Lea at email@example.com or visit the Achilles Foundation's donation page at www.achillesinternational.org/support/individual or the National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction's homepage at www.nffr.org.
When Damian returns to the U.S., Fuji will be there every step of the way to provide the latest updates on Damian's progress. Stay tuned.
For the full story on Damian, please visit: http://www.fujibikes.com/home
Mr. I. has lent us his photo archive, and we will be posting the pictures here. If you recognize the people in the photos, feel free to add captions.