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By Water, By Ice, By Snow

By Scottie Bibb | Feb. 27, 2014, 10 a.m. (ET)
Augusto Perez
Augusto "Goose" Perez is a two-time U.S. Paralympian will make his Nordic skiing debut at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. He competed in wheelchair curling in 2006 and 2010.

Augusto Perez
Augusto Perez helped Team USA to a fourth place finish in wheelchair curling at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games.

Not many people can say they have represented the United States on water, ice and snow. Then again, not many people are Augusto "Goose" Perez.

Despite having never tried curling until late 2005, Perez made the 2006 U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team and competed at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy, where his team finished eighth.

Perez then decided to expand his athletic scope and try his hand at adaptive outrigger canoeing. His competitive spirit and hard work led him to become a two-time adaptive outrigger canoe world champion (2008, OC1/500-meter; 2009, OC2/200-meter), and in 2008 he became the first wheelchair athlete to be named the USA Curling Male Athlete of the Year.

He went on to qualify for the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the wheelchair curling team, where his team finished fourth.

Not one to rest on his laurels, and always in search of a new challenge, Perez soon decided to completely shift gears and try two entirely new sports: cross-country skiing and biathlon.

“I don’t have the luxury on saying ‘maybe tomorrow,’” Perez, who lives in Syracuse, N.Y., said. “So after talking to my wife and kids we said lets go for it.”

Although the transition to skiing wasn’t an easy one, his determination paid off and, on Jan. 29, Perez was nominated to the U.S. Paralympic Nordic Skiing Team, and was told he had qualified for the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi.

“The Paralympic Games is the place where the best of the best compete and where you earn the title of Paralympian, a pretty exclusive family,” Perez said. “I have been lucky to represent USA in water, ice and now snow, and to be able to do it in three Games is fantastic.

“The main thing is to represent the USA, a country that has given me so much, it is an honor,” he continued. “Medal or not, it is an honor to compete representing Team USA and to prove that no matter what you can push ahead.”

Perez has also competed in both para-canoe and kayak, both of which will make their Paralympic Games debut at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

As for his plans for a fourth Paralympic Games, Perez said it would be nice to compete again and have a Paralympic ring of his own — he gave his rings from the Torino and Vancouver Games to his twins, Ainoa and Iker. He plans to give his ring from the Sochi Games to his wife, Brenda.

“My wife forced me out of bed to train when radiation treatments were hitting me hard, she biked with me to help me stay competitive and went to the gym with me even through cancer treatments,” Perez said. “She monitored my diet, my rest; she was my local trainer, dietitian, mentor and psychologist when at times I wondered ‘why,’ and if it is all worth the time, the pain.”

The word “quitter” is not in Perez’s vocabulary Perez; however, the word “fighter” certainly is. Born in Madrid, Spain, Perez immigrated to the United States as a high school student to play soccer and remained in the country to attend Paul Smith’s College in New York.

Life changed greatly in 2000 when Perez, then 28, was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma, a particularly rare form of cancer that affects the body’s connective tissue. He was given less than a 30 percent chance of surviving the rare cancer that is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Yet he has repeatedly defied the odds, and has fought the disease for the past 13 years.

Following a reappearance of the cancer in 2003, the decision was made to amputate his left leg in an effort to save his life. It didn’t take long for Perez to adapt to life as a hip-disarticulated amputee however, and he soon took up the sport of wheelchair curling as a form of rehabilitation.

The battles have continued for Perez over the years, but he has continued fighting.

In addition to suffering a fourth reoccurrence of his cancer in 2012, Perez lost his mother to pancreatic cancer and his uncle to brain cancer that same year.

“Having been able to make the team while fighting cancer, training as much as I could during cancer treatments and be able to meet Paralympic standard 10 days after finishing cancer treatments is amazing,” Perez said.

Perez’s own health is always a concern as well, and he sees a physician every 90 days for a checkup. 

“As of mid-February, I am cancer-free,” Perez said. “I am currently NED (No Evidence of Disease), meaning remission is stable.

“I signed another ‘lease on life’ for the next 90 days at least, until the next checkup.”

Perez is also thankful for those who have helped him along the way.

“The CXC (Central Cross Country Association) and my coach Yuri (Kaminsky) deserve special thanks as well for their support and helping me get phenomenal training,” Perez said.

Perez says that additionally he owes thanks to a small, but mighty, group of supporters.

“I would like to dedicate this to those good people who helped me along the way,” Perez said. “To those lost to cancer, to those fighting right now, to the great Coach Igor (Badamshin, CXC head ski coach), who passed away recently doing what he loved. I dedicate this also to those who thought I could not do it, who wished I could not do it. While my heart, my bones and my health may be breakable, my spirit is not.”

Scottie Bibb is a writer from Colorado. She is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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