Manny Velasquez: A Story Of Recovery & Inspiration

A year after being struck by tractor trailer after a meet, Manny Velasquez made his first strides on the track and small steps on a long road to recovery. (Video courtesy of UNF Track/XC)
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A year ago, Manny Velasquez was a promising young runner at the University of North Florida.

The 2014 graduate of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas had just finished in third-place in the mile at the  Camel City Invite in Winston Salem, North Carolina, when he went to get his cool down in.

Velasquez didn't make it back to the track.

While on that run, he was blindsided by a tractor trailer while crossing the street. He was thrown under the vehicle and his lower extremities were crushed. He was lucky to even make it out alive.

"My lungs were punctured, so I could barely breathe," he said. "My legs were crushed. so I couldn't move or feel anything, and my body was shivering profusely because I decided to go out in the 35 degree weather with only my sweatpants and race top."

Fear encompassed his body on that traumatic day, but hope soon arrived when his coach, Jeff Pigg, came to the scene five to 10 minutes later along with a trainer.  The pair helped him relax.

Velasquez said he remembers not being able to breathe, though Pigg was telling him that everything would be all right. Shortly after, medical personal were standing in front of him.

"Officers and firefighters arrived to the scene within a few minutes, but unfortunately the ambulance took about 20 minutes," Velasquez said. "The firefighter touched my left and right toe and asked if I could feel anything. I slightly nodded my head in relief thinking, 'Thank God I'm not paralyzed.'"

The journey since that day has been intense.

Velasquez has undergone four surgeries, three of which were to reconstruct his left knee and take skin graphs to cover the flap.

One of the three knee surgeries involved taking his calf muscle and flapping it onto his knee and it's a reason he always keeps his knee covered when he goes out. The need for the flap is due to the fact that all of the ligaments in his knee were destroyed. The muscle from his calf placed on his knee helped to repair the it more efficiently.

"I'm a little self conscious about it because it's pretty bad," Velasquez added. "I want everyone to know my story and what I've been through. The other surgery was to put a giant screw in my crushed pelvis."

He has one more surgery in the future to shave the flap down. He also didn't eat for about a whole week and lost a ton of weight. It's an accident that has not only changed his life, but the way he looks at life.

"Knowing that this accident ended my college running career was a heartbreak," he said. "I missed the thrill of doing well in a race or just being with my teammates before a workout anxiously awaiting it. I was in a wheelchair for three months and crutches for about two. This past year has felt like an eternity, but I am happy with the recovery I have made so far."

At the end of the day, he says, he knows he has so much to be thankful for and says that he won't be sweating the little things that's for sure.

"I've always been a positive person, but this was a true test of my ability to see the glass half full in life," he said

But exactly a year after his accident, he wasn't sulking.

He wasn't throwing a pity party for the events that took place, either. He was back with his Osprey teammates. 

A picture of optimism and perseverance, Velasquez was back on the track.

"It was bittersweet," he confessed. "Taking that first step had so much meaning behind it. My team was about to get onto the bus to go to the Winston-Salem meet where my accident occurred last year so that also added a little bit of a significance to it. Although I only ran about 50 meters, it was a huge step to getting back to normal."

Velasquez credits his support system for helping him get this far.

"My boys, my coaches, my family, my amazing girlfriend, my STA family, my business partner and the running community that I grew up with in South Florida have been incredible," he said. "It's constant little reminders that would help me out a lot this past year that inspired me to never give up. Just like running, this recovery has taken a lot of mental strength."

Velasquez's future is bright. He's close to finishing his business degree at UNF and is looking forward to graduation day in April. Instead of wasting away time in a wheelchair, he studied for his real estate license and has been in business in Jacksonville for the past few months. He is looking forward to building that business up over time, just as he as built up his physical stamina.

As for running, he knows 50 meters at a time won't cut it forever and realizes it that it will be a while before he starts logging serious miles.

"I definitely want to continue doing road races," he said. "My father is an Ironman so biking and swimming is also an activity I have been into lately. All in all, Im just happy to be alive and healthy."

He went onto send a message to the Florida running community as well.

"On the starting line we are all competing against each other, but after the race we are all thinking the same thing, 'I'm so happy that's over with,'" he said. "Thats exactly how I feel now and I want to thank so many of you that I don't even know that have reached out me. You made my recovery possible."