TUCSON, ARIZ. – There is an easiness to the way Freddie speaks, a tranquil tone that puts others at rest while he explains why 95 percent of his right leg has been replaced by a titanium X3 prosthetic.
Freddie is equally smooth and serene on his handcycle, a portrait of precision, strength and composure.
Alfredo De Los Santos, or Freddie as he prefers, is one of the shining performers for the U.S. Military Endurance Sports program. The 46-year-old has competed in dozens of marathons, and he is no stranger to winning.
“My kids, I didn’t want them to see me being disabled,” Freddie said during a USMES training camp this spring in Tucson. “They know I have a handcycle. They see me training. I know they get something out of it. Life is about pushing.
“It’s kind of weird because sometime I feel like it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m the best shape of my life, and I don’t like to settle for less.”
Brave veterans like Freddie make U-Haul Company proud to support the USMES program through in-kind donations. U-Haul has offered storage, trucks and U-Box containers to the non-profit organization for four years.
Freddie, a New York resident who, like many Americans, signed up for duty after the Sept. 11 attacks, has come a long way mentally and physically since a rocket-propelled grenade took his leg in October 2008. Freddie was a Humvee gunner in Afghanistan when his unit was ambushed.
According to a 2013 New York Times article, the Dominican-born De Los Santos was hit so hard that “the explosion tore off his leg” and “his head slammed down and he lost his teeth.” He also was shot twice.
“I was in (the hospital) for two years,” Freddie said. “I had to learn how to do everything. I’m still taking therapy. I had to learn to speak, how to walk.
“I maybe have 5 percent (of the leg) left in there. So the beginning, I was very frustrated. I was very depressed. But I don’t know – something clicked and I realized I still had function in this other leg. After a while, I started cycling. Then I went from cycling to skiing. Then I went from skiing to swimming. I tried every single sport out there. And now I have no limits. I just go and do it.”
Freddie needed some time on the handcycle. Then he got a feel for it. After attending USMES camps, he started to understand what was required to go from good to great.
“It helped me to see the limits and to develop the game, to take it to the next level,” he said. “Just being around these guys, they showed me how to eat properly, how to train properly.
“I’ve been competing now internationally. I want to be the world champion.”
USMES director of operations Jim Weinstein added: “It’s not uncommon for us to hear that: ‘I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m faster than I’ve ever been. I’m more motivated than I’ve ever been.’ And you’re missing a leg.
“There’s something that clicks, and whatever it was for Freddie, we try to transport that fighting, warrior spirit to others that are joining the program early. For us, it’s about connecting those who have figured it out, who are successful in dealing with and managing the demons and skeletons, to those who are still struggling.”
Freddie trains every day, riding 40 to 60 miles either on the road or a contraption with rollers at his house. He competed this summer in the Para-Cycling Road World Cup events in Switzerland and Italy, finishing no lower than sixth in the road races and time trials at each destination.
Daughter Josley and son Jesse are undoubtedly proud of their father. They should be.
U-Haul is proud of our veterans and seeks to continue assisting groups like USMES while building on its own record as one of the nation’s top veteran-friendly employers.
USMES is always seeking additional members, both able-bodied and wounded, to join its organization and get fit while reconnecting with their military roots. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Did you know U-Haul is one of the founding partners of Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride? Have you participated or do you know someone who has participated in USMES or Soldier Ride? Please share your thoughts on these programs and U-Haul Company’s support in the comment box below.