When Navy SEAL Carlos Moleda came home from Panama in 1989, he was a different man. During an intense firefight, he was shot near his spine and leg and the gunshot wounds he sustained left his lower body paralyzed – but life goes on. He was, after all, one of the lucky ones; four of his colleagues did not make it home alive.
Last Thursday, the now 45-year-old Moleda did not let a ‘little thing’ like paralysis get in the way of athletics. He was one of forty challenged athletes who competed in handcycling races up Wabash Hill in Redlands, a grueling 1,000 foot climb. The events were part of the 2009 Redlands Bicycle Classic, which opened on that day. While the Wabash Hill track was just as difficult for Moleda as the rest of the challenged athletes, it was at least familiar territory as he had competed in the 3½ course before.
Carlos Moleda actually grew up in Brazil, but chose to come to the United States at 18. He eventually joined the Navy and became one of the elite Navy SEALs. After his injury, he embarked on a new adventure: becoming a champion. Moleda called handcycling “a really good path for getting back into life”.
Among Carlos’ recent successes is winning the 367-mile Sadlers Ultra Challenge handcycling race in Alaska. He is also a two-time National Handcycling Champion, and, being the SEAL that he is, a three-time Hawaii Ironman Champion for the physically challenged division. He now serves as a spokesperson for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and teaches and inspires younger physically-challenged kids to handcycle.
His story is among the true American stories recounted in the Fred Ashman film Proud American.