“I remember grabbing my leg and holding my leg. That’s the only part I remember.”
Those are the chilling words of U.S. Army veteran Freddie De Los Santos.
“The next thing I know I woke up at Walter Reed Hospital.”
De Los Santos joined the Army after 9/11 and became a special operations staff sergeant out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He lost his leg serving in Afghanistan after a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) hit his patrol. Following his injury, he endured months of physical rehabilitation and had to cope with psychological trauma.
“I had suicidal thoughts. I just wanted to end my life because I was not the same. It used to break my heart every time my kids used to see me,” he says.
It is estimated that more than 48,000 servicemen and -women have been physically injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over 1,600 have lost limbs. Many, like De Los Santos, still manage to achieve tremendous physical feats.
Through an organization called Achilles International, which brings volunteers and disabled runners together to participate in mainstream races, De Los Santos has become a competitive athlete. Achilles has special programs for all ages, and the Achilles “Freedom Team” meets the specific needs of wounded members of the U.S. military through the use of hand cycles.
“It was part of my rehab. It became my way of life. And I love it. It has been the most rewarding experience, being able to compete despite my disability,” De Los Santos says.
Since losing his leg, De Los Santos has completed 26 marathons and is currently training to make the Paralympic team in Rio.
“I will be so excited to go to Rio, not just because it’s Rio but also because I will be able to look back and say, ‘Wow, this is how far I have come since the day I got injured.’ That will be the greatest achievement ever.”