PHILADELPHIA, PA (BRAIN)—Fuji Bicycles has teamed up with the local cycling community in New York to help Cuba native Damian Lopez Alphonso make it to the 2012 Cycling Paralympics.
At age 13, Alphonso was shocked with 13,000 volts of electricity while trying to retrieve a kite caught on an electrical wire in his native Cuba. He spent 52 days on life support following the accident and has had dozens of surgeries since his teens.
Although he lost both of his hands and uses no adaptive devices, Alphonso, now 34, is an accomplished cyclist. He 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.
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 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 Alphonso, and he arrived in the U.S. on December 6.
Former Fuji-sponsored athlete, Ivan Dominguez, who knew Alphonso from the Cuban racing scene, called Fuji as soon as he heard about his old friend coming to the U.S, asking if the brand would be willing to donate a bike.
When Alphonso arrived in New York, a brand new Fuji Roubaix ACR was waiting for him, and Lea took him to Echelon Cycles, a Fuji dealer 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, Alphonso 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.
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 nonprofit 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."
Alphonso's surgery is planned for late January 2011, and he will be fitted for prosthetics after.
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 of qualifying for the 2012 Cycling Paralympics and racing in the New York Marathon 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/.
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