Fuji Bikes, part of the Advanced Sports Inc (ASI) stable, has a feel good story for the holiday season.
In a tale of ultimate survival and human kindness, Fuji notes that Damian Lopez Alphonso’s story is one that needs to be told.
Damian has not only captured the hearts of those he’s met and raced with; he’s inspired an outpouring of support from the cycling community at large.
At age 13, while trying to retrieve a kite caught on an electrical wire in his native Cuba, Damian Lopez Alphonso was electrocuted with 13,000 volts of electricity – the voltage equivalent of what it takes to move a New York City subway car.
He spent 52 days on life support following the accident and has had dozens of surgeries – some life-saving – since his teens. Doctors are still baffled by the fact that he’s alive.
Yet Damian, now 34, hasn’t allowed these seeming setbacks to slow him down – literally.
Although he lost both of his hands and uses no adaptive devices, Damian is an accomplished cyclist, who 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 against some of the best athletes in his region.
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 not in the Paralympics realm but 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 Damian, and he arrived in the US on 6 December.
A gift from an old friend was waiting for him upon his arrival.
Former Fuji-sponsored athlete, Ivan Dominguez, who knew Damian from the Cuban racing scene, called Fuji as soon as he heard about Damian coming to the US, asking if the brand would be willing to donate a bike. Fuji’s response was simple: ‘Of course’.
So when Damian arrived in New York, a brand new Fuji Roubaix ACR was waiting for him, and Lea took him to Echelon Cycles, a Fuji dealer on 8th Avenue 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 per Dominguez, Damian 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.
Elated by the news but knowing that neither she nor Damian’s family could pay for the surgery and prosthetics, Lea reached out to the cycling community.
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 non-profit organisation 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," she added.
Damian’s surgery is planned for late January 2011, and he will be fitted for prosthetics following the surgery.
When Damian returns to the US, Fuji will provide the latest updates on Damian’s progress.
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 his dreams realized. For those who would like to help Damian, please contact Tracy Lea at tlea[at]tracylea.net or visit the Achilles Foundation’s donation page, or the National Foundation for Facial Reconstruction’s homepage.