Team USA Para-Cyclists Who Love To Spread Christmas Cheer For All To Hearv
by Joanne C. Gerstner
We’ve made it to the end of a hectic and dramatic year, and it’s time to rest and recharge a little. Members of the U.S. Paralympics Cycling national team, including Paralympic medalists Freddie De Los Santos and Oz Sanchez, and 2020 Games newcomer Clara Brown, are looking forward to time with family for the holidays.
Take De Los Santos, who is describes himself as the biggest fan of Christmas. So much so, that having a properly decorated tree and house is not just a goal. It’s a must. All year long.
“I have to confess, me and my wife (Jeannette) are crazy, crazy about Christmas. It’s my favorite time of the year,” said De Los Santos, who won his first Paralympic medal, a bronze in the mixed team relay, at the Tokyo Games. “We have a Christmas tree inside the house, all year long, and we don’t turn it off. We love Christmas, and we celebrate the Christmas spirit all year. We don’t want to let it go.”
The aspect of being with people, and wishing them well, makes De Los Santos happy. Spreading Christmas cheer, for all to hear, is a real thing for him.
“Christmas is the spirit of life. You engage with your family and friends,” he said. “When you have the opportunity to forgive people, even your enemies, share love, get together, and have happy times, you have the Christmas love and joy. I say, ‘Merry Christmas’ to everybody I see — when I go to the store, go shopping, I tell everybody that with a smile. I spread the happiness I feel.”
De Los Santos and his wife live in Hopewell Junction, in New York, helping the Christmas spirit click in through customary wintery scenes. The Christmas decorations inside the house take various forms throughout the year. But the real push starts on Thanksgiving. She makes sure every part of the house is decorated.
Even when he is on the road, like he was a few years ago for cycling training in Florida during the holidays, he needs to feel the Christmas spirit.
“I was with (U.S. teammate) Tom Davis, who is my mentor, and I told him I just felt depressed. It did not feel like Christmas enough for me,” De Los Santos remembered, detailing their holiday spirit-free hotel room. “His solution was to go to Walmart, get a Christmas tree and put it in our room. Then I felt much better, the spirit was there. He knew I needed to have that, which was so kind.
“I love Christmas.”
So does Brown and her boyfriend and coach/fellow Para-cyclist Noah Middlestaedt. They are spending some time with his family in Minnesota and are looking forward to some quality time relaxing. She likes to bake, with cookies definitely in production and taste-tested — for quality assurance, of course.
“I am planning to bake a bunch of holiday cookies, since dessert is always the best part of any celebration,” Brown said via email.
What’s on the menu? She said her favorite is her mom’s “classic” molasses cookie recipe. But a new discovery, a chocolate peppermint cookie with crushed candy canes on top, is also a must.
Gifts are on the agenda too for Brown and Middlestaedt.
“We are doing a white elephant,” she said, “so that will be a fun activity to get in the spirit and hopefully it won’t get too competitive.”
Christmas at the Sanchez house in Alpine, California, will be special this year, as they have set up a tree to let their 15-month-old son experience the holiday. Last year, the Sanchez family had just moved into their new home, making a big, extended family-driven Christmas with the trimmings not possible.
This year, he wants to see Benicio’s eyes take in the 7-foot fresh tree. His sister-in-law found the perfect tree for them, an extra one from a rural farm that was going to be discarded.
It’s now up, beautiful, and ready for Santa to visit.
And of course, since the little one is walking, precautions are being taken. The tree is anchored to the ceiling, ornaments are placed out of reaching baby hands, and mom and dad will be keeping a watchful eye.
“I can’t wait to have family over and seeing our guy hanging out with his cousins. That is going to be a big blessing for us,” Sanchez said. “It’s first real Christmas where he sort of understands something is happening, so it’s very special for all of us. I am really blessed to be able to have this, and I will enjoy every minute.”
Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.