Vet ends traumatic year with life-changing accomplishment

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DENVER -- If it's true that that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger, Richard Sanchez must be the toughest guy in Colorado. He's been rehabbing at Craig Hospital, after nearly dying twice in the last 12 months.

The first time: a year ago this week, in Afghanistan.

“One of the Afghan soldiers went rogue, and opened fire on us,” Sanchez told FOX31 Denver.

The attack killed a fellow soldier, and wounded Richard so severely, he can barely use his right arm.

Then, six months later - his bad year got even worse.  He was riding on a flatbed truck with a group of wounded soldiers in a parade in Midland, Texas.  And  you probably remember what happened next.

“The truck somehow got stuck on the tracks. Whether it stopped, got stuck, I'm not sure, but, a train was coming at us and the 12 soldiers there pushed their wives off the train and a lot of us didn't make it off ourselves,” Sanchez said.

Four wounded warriors died in that accident. Sixteen others were hurt. Richard suffered a broken back. But it didn't kill him. It made him stronger. And stronger willed.

He made it his goal to stop saying ‘I can't.’

“You wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you're frustrated because ‘I can't do this,’ or ‘I can't do that.’ Those ‘I cants’ start getting thrown out there and then it makes you even madder,” Sanchez said.

So when his rehab began to include underwater physical therapy, with the help of the folks at A1 Scuba, he got an idea.

And six months later, the man they thought might never walk again was at Downtown Aquarium, about to embark on his first ever salt water scuba dive.

“You gotta prove to yourself you can still do stuff you've never done before,” Sanchez said.

Submerged in 200,000 gallons of water - surrounded by sea life, Richard is living out a dream that precedes his nightmare.

Under the water, where the crutches and walker, are gone. And so is the pain. It’s the one place, where his body feels the way it felt before.

For his young children, and his wife, who've had a tough time dealing with the changes in their father, it's a moment worthy of a snapshot.

“Oh it's pretty cool... seeing the smiles on their face,” Sanchez said.

For a guy who used to say ‘I can't,’ this is a life-changing ‘I can.’

And proof, that that which doesn't kill you - twice - really can make you stronger.

Richard is being medically retired from the Army - after 13 years of service. He lives in Colorado Springs.

To learn more about A1 Scuba, click here:

To learn more about Downtown Aquarium, click here:

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