HOUSTON—Saturday in Splendora a 33 year-old-man proved that life’s obstacles can be successfully conquered, one painful barrier at a time, with patience, perseverance, and with help from family and friends.
Angel Gonzalez is a paraplegic. The victim of a spinal injury when he was 23, he lives an active life that includes work, college, and adaptive recreation contests like wheelchair basketball and rugby. But in an event called the Warrior Dash he and his girlfriend found his biggest challenge yet.
“I’ve got the best friends, the best team and the best family all sitting right here,” he told us in the parking lot outside the Warrior Dash event in Splendora. “And with friends and family like these I mean you can do anything.”
The 3.2 mile cross country obstacle course draws thousands of contestants and spectators at each of its staged locations across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. Participants slog through knee-deep mud, swim across rain-swollen rivers, scale 30-foot-tall vertical obstacles, grapple with wobbly cargo nets, crawl through dirt trenches and under barbed wire, and end with a crawl through a moat of pea-soup-thick mud.
Although that description sounds like the last place you might want to take a wheelchair Gonzalez outfitted his chair with mountain bike tires and a large third wheel in the front. And he outfitted his entire team in fluorescent orange shirts printed with the slogan “Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way.”
For the entire 3.2 miles Gonzalez struggled through the mud and scaled each barrier with the help of his girlfriend Jackie, his brother Al, and a dedicated team of roughly a dozen family and friends. At times Gonzalez sped through the course under his own power. At the most difficult barriers his buddies carried, pushed, and dragged him until he could get back in his chair and resume the contest on his own.
They crossed the finish line Saturday morning to the cheers of an appreciative crowd. Gonzalez wasn’t just the first to conquer the course in a wheelchair. He was the first to ever even try it in a wheelchair.
“Any disability, if you want to do it, you do it,” said his girlfriend Jackie Cantu, who is also a personal trainer. “However long it takes, there’s no time limit. You can only put it on yourself.”
“There’s no number, there’s no symbol, there’s nothing that can describe his inspiration towards me,” said his brother Al Gonzalez. “It’s above and beyond. If you want to sound like a 3-year-old, it’s infinity times infinity.”
“There are some things in life that you just can’t do on your own,” Angel Gonzalez said after the race. “But I knew that with this group we could do it, and we did.”
Watch the accompanying video to get a real sense of the accomplishment of Angel Gonzalez and his team.