Local Military Vet Defies Odds, Heads To Paralympic Games

Oz Sanchez Nominated For 2012 ESPY Award

A local military veteran paralyzed in a motorcycle crash is now on his way to the 2012 Paralympic Games and received his latest accolade -- a nomination for the ESPY Awards, hosted by ESPN to honor top athletes.

 

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Oz Sanchez was a Marine and had planned to train for the Navy SEALs. He had planned to make a career out of the military with aspirations of joining Delta Force.

However, a hit-and-run motorcycle crash in 2001 changed everything. A vehicle hit him while he was on his motorcycle, causing him to fly to the side of the road, landing in a pile of rocks.

"Having an accident where you're left with paralysis and a broken back was really not part of my game plan," Sanchez said.

He suffered a severe spinal cord injury, damaging the L1 nerves in his lower back. The injury included paralysis and neurological complications. Sanchez's damage to his spinal cord was "incomplete," and he can now walk with the use of a crutch. His road to recovery, however, led to a dark place.

"I went into a pretty bad depression," Sanchez said. "Instead of developing a good support network of people, friends [and] communities, I did the exact opposite, so that prolonged my depression."

He eventually realized a life of depression was no way to live, so Sanchez eventually found his comfort in athletics with the help of equipment that helps stabilize his legs.

"These are basically orthotics … [It's] similar to a prosthetic," Sanchez said, pointing to his equipment on his legs that help keep him stable. "Since I have full paralysis from my knees down, they just keep my feet at an L shape."

The 36-year-old poured his heart and soul into hand cycling and paratriathlons. He's now a five-time world champion in cycling. He won gold in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics and is heading to London in a few weeks.

But his biggest personal accomplishment has nothing to do with athletics. Sanchez said it was getting his college degree.

"I have bigger goals now than I had before my injury and I'm chasing and accomplishing a lot of them," Sanchez said.

He spends much of his time speaking to other wounded veterans.

"The campaign in the Middle East has generated thousands of numbers for these injured men and women, so whenever it comes to talking to those audiences, any and every opportunity I get a chance to be out there and be that shining example, I jump on that," Sanchez said.

He has always wanted to be among the few nominated for an ESPY Award and now he is one of five in the category for "Best Male Athlete with a Disability."

The nomination is the cherry on top for a man who was once down, but not out.

To learn about the nominees and to vote for Sanchez, click here.