Luis Puertas is the big engine that could

By Scottie Bibb | May 14, 2013, 10:48 p.m. (ET)
Retired Army Specialist 1st Class Luis Puertas lost both legs while serving in Iraq. Now he is winning track and field gold at the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Retired Army Specialist Luis Puertas, a native of Orlando, has a mantra he likes to repeat to stay motivated: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

That mantra has served him well for the past seven years.

On Sept. 20, 2006, Puertas was serving with the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad when his convoy was hit by an explosively formed penetrator (EFP). Puertas was trapped beneath the 400 pound armored door of the Humvee in which he was traveling.

“I lost my legs instantly in that blast,” Puertas said.

He was airlifted to a hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and was then transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he spent the next 14 months undergoing operations and rehabilitation.

“I wanted to recover and get out of the hospital, and get on with my life,” Puertas said. “Adaptive sports gave me the initial push I needed to get my engine rolling.”

It looks like Puertas’ engine is running at full speed, as he finished first in the 100 meters,  the 200 and the 1,500-meter (above knee amputee) track events today at Warrior Games presented by Deloitte. Puertas is one of the 260 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans participating in the Warrior Games, now in its fourth year.

Prior to the start of the events, when asked how he thought he’d perform, Puertas was more than confident.

“I will win gold in every event today,” he said. “That’s how you have to think about things, in order to get them done. When you see it in your mind, you envision it. You dream about it every day. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen.”

Once Puertas decided to envision his complete rehabilitation, nothing could stop him.

“I tried all of the rehabilitation activities that they offered at the hospital,” he said. “But my main focus was learning how to walk again. From there, I decided I should probably just run!”

Despite having no prior experience with running, Puertas seems to have an innate talent for the sport.

“I played soccer in high school, but I never ran track or anything like that,” he said. “I don’t know why, but for some reason I’m just talented at running with the prosthetics.”

Once he set his mind on competitive running, Puertas wasted no time getting into condition. He ran an Army-sponsored 10K race just 360 days after his amputation surgery.

“If you put the effort forward,” Puertas said, “then you should be able to achieve the desired results.”

In addition to competing in the track events, Puertas will also participate in swimming.

“I actually was selected for the shooting competition, but I decided to try the swimming instead,” he said. “I figured it was a good way to work on my cardio training and, at the same time, get acclimated to the altitude here in Colorado.”

Puertas said he has never tried swimming competitively prior to this event.

“Running is my first sport,” he said. “I’m participating in swimming, but I’m not sure how competitive I’ll be.”

Puertas has no intent of slowing down following the conclusion of the Warrior Games.

He’ll be participating in the 2013 U.S. Paralympics Track & Field National Championships, which take place June 14-16 in San Antonio, Texas, with the hope of winning one of the coveted spots to represent the United States at the 2013 IPC Athletics World Championships in Lyon, France.

His dream is to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

“I’m going to keep training and focusing on that goal,” he said. “It keeps me motivated. It’s basically a full-time job, training to qualify for the (Paralympic Games).”

He maintains that a positive mindset is paramount for all of his fellow participants at the Warrior Games.

“Don’t mourn your injuries,” he said, “but, rather, embrace them and believe in yourself.”

 
Students from Abrams Elementary School cheer on Luis Puertas at 2013
Warrior Games presented by Deloitte

Puertas and the rest of the Warrior Games participants had an extremely vocal bunch of fans in the stands for the track and field events today: a group of approximately 120 second- and third-grade students from nearby Abrams Elementary School, which is located on the Fort Carson Army Post in Colorado.

Randy Menegatti, a third-grade teacher at Abrams who organized the field trip for his students, said he hopes their attendance at the event helps the athletes know that they’ve got a lot of people in their corner.

“This helps them see that no matter what branch of the service their parents are in, there is truly an enormous amount of camaraderie between those who served,” Menegatti said. “This is basically just a big group of people who support each other, no matter what.”

Menegatti also wants his students to understand one of the main concepts this competition embodies: prevailing over challenging circumstances.

“Quite a few of the kids who attend Abrams have a parent who is currently active duty and deployed,” Menegatti said. “It’s important for them to understand that if they have a parent who comes back from service with an injury, life does still go on and they can still achieve great things.”

For more from the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/warriorgames/.

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Scottie Bibb is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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