Freddie De Los Santos Delivers Inspirational Racing And Motivational Hope In Colombia
by Paul D. Booker
Freddie De Los Santos competes in Maniago, Italy. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
A passion for cycling, and soldiers, has sent two-time Paralympic handcyclist Freddie De Los Santos back and forth between Colombia and the United States five times in the last year alone.
De Los Santos lost most of his right leg in an explosion while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and has since won Paralympic and world championship medals on relay teams.
To help those who may be in similar situations as he once was, De Los Santos regularly travels to Colombia to speak with amputees in the country’s military services. It’s an emotional boost for those soldiers and for De Los Santos. On his last trip, he was joined by two-time Paralympic medalist Jamie Whitmore.
“They love it,” De Los Santos, 53, said. “I get motivated by them, and they get motivated by me. It has been a blessing.”
De Los Santos’s travels have taken him east toward Europe this spring. He is among a group of American cyclists beginning this year’s world cup tour with competitions in Maniago, Italy, April 20-24, and Ostend, Belgium, May 5-8.
The 2023 season will also include the first U.S.-hosted world cup event over Memorial Day weekend in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Parapan American Games in Chile in October and November.
“My hope, of course, is always to win,” De Los Santos said. “My hope is to be on the podium. I want to win. I want to be the best of the best. I feel stronger, physically and mentally, and I think I deserve to be world champ this year, so we’ll see what happens.”
Working on that strength with De Los Santos this year is Tom Davis, a two-time Paralympian who retired from competitive cycling after the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and is a close friend of De Los Santos.
“He has been amazing,” De Los Santos said. “He’s like my best friend. So finally he decided to coach me this year. I’ll tell you, I feel stronger now. I feel like I have more power and I have more time with my family. It has been great. It’s been an amazing experience.”
Among the other cyclists being coached by Davis is Alicia Dana, who teamed up with De Los Santos and Ryan Pinney to win a bronze medal in the mixed H1-5 team relay at the Tokyo Games two years ago.
De Los Santos, a native of the Dominican Republic who now resides in Hopewell Junction, New York, with his wife and two children, finished fifth in the individual road race and sixth in the time trial in Tokyo. But now, De Los Santos says he has never felt better.
“Physically, I’m in the best shape of my life,” De Los Santos said. “The training regiment that we have been working on right now has been amazing. I can see I have improved a lot.”
Cycling is just one of De Los Santos’s passions. He also paints and has a degree in graphic design from City College of New York. His wife, Jeanette, nudged him into handcycling as part of his rehabilitation following his military injury.
Despite being wounded and having his right leg amputated above the knee, De Los Santos is so proud of his country that he’d serve again. He retired from the Army in 2010.
“If I had to do everything all over again, I would do it again,” he said, “It’s an honor and a blessing to serve with the best soldiers of the world.”
De Los Santos hopes his path leads him toward the UCI world championships, which are scheduled for August 3-13 in Glasgow, Scotland. The event is expected to draw 2,600 athletes as it will host both Para and able-bodied events.
“Everybody’s going to be at the same place at the same time,” De Los Santos said. “I think it’s going to be kind of cool. Just to be able to see everybody in one place. It’s going to be kind of like the Paralympics.”