Nikko Landeros, shown playing at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, hopes to make the Sochi 2014 team with best friend Tyler Carron, who was injured in the same 2007 accident.
When they were teenagers, they were teammates. Best buds. They were in it together for life, it seemed, no retreat, no surrender. It was all in front of them.
Now they’re men. They’re 23, but they’re men, experienced and battered and scarred. They’ve lived some. They know dreams don’t always come true. They know life doesn’t always go the way you planned.
In so many ways, everything has changed.
But in so many ways, it seems like nothing has.
In the old days, it was wrestling that brought them together. Nikko Landeros was a competitor. He was not just a ferocious one but a voracious one; he was hungry. His first love was basketball. But high school basketball had him frustrated. His best friend, Tyler Carron, was a wrestler. Carron was a state qualifier, one of those kids all but born into the sport.
So Nikko joined Tyler in the cult-like brotherhood of the mat. And everything clicked.
Now, it’s sled hockey. They’re still teammates. Still best buds. Now they bang bodies on the ice, the way only old wrestlers can. Now they still have everything in front of them — they’re on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team and are playing in the World Sledge Hockey Challenge this week in Calgary, Alberta. The team is 2-0, beating Norway 3-1 Sunday and Japan 8-0 Monday.
They go to tournaments all over the world, and they wear the red, white and blue.
This time it was Nikko who brought Tyler in.
“I played hockey most of my life,” Landeros said. “Tyler had never played hockey until after we got hurt.”
The Colorado natives were coming home from a dance one cold night in 2007, when they were in high school. They pulled off to the side of a narrow rural road to fix a flat. Another vehicle came along, didn’t see them, and they were pinned between two SUVs. They both would eventually lose both legs.
They both would eventually come back.
In so many ways, it seems, nothing’s changed. Teammates, best buds, tough guys, having the time of their lives.
But that doesn’t mean it’s been easy, being sudden bilateral amputees as young men. “It’s crazy how it’s all mental, in your head,” Landeros said. “People can tell you you’re strong. No, it’s all in your head.”
There are days, even now, when a “Why me?” sneaks in. There are times when anger at the situation overwhelms all else.
“Sometimes you have those days,” Landeros said. “It’s not always a cake walk. Sometimes you just want to sit down and be (ticked) off about your life.”
But those are the times when they have each other. Each has the other as someone who understands — because no one else does.
“It helped a lot having someone in your same situation dealing with the same stuff,” Carron said.
“We went through ups and downs, both of us,” Landeros said. “More ups than downs.”
Carron also got into bodybuilding, after losing his legs. Do a Google image search — and as impressive as are the muscles, more so is the joy evident in his face.
Of course they were going to be athletes again.
They tried sled hockey not long into their rehab, and they hated it. They weren’t ready. But the next year they came back to it and everything clicked. It was like Nikko discovering wrestling all over again.
“We fell in love with it,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Landeros made Team USA. Carron was on the developmental squad, and closing fast. He was determined — “When Nikko made the team,” Carron said, “I knew: I’ll eventually be on that team.”
It was Tyler and Nikko, in it together, all over again.
So many things have changed. But so many haven’t. They’re still teammates. Still best buds — brothers, really. Now they wear red, white and blue.
“It’s pretty wild how things happen for the better, I guess,” Landeros said. “I probably wouldn’t change it if I could.”
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Kalani Simpson is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.