Saturday, July 10, 2010
The long journey home has begun for a Spanish cyclist struck by a car near Wichita last month. Today, he's anxiously homeward to watch his country play in the World Cup final tomorrow.
Diego Ballesteros remains paralyzed from the waist down after the mid-June accident. He boarded a plane in his hospital be this morning headed for Barcelona. Ballesteros arrived at Mid-Continent Airport in an ambulance. His long journey home is only the start of an even longer journey of rehab.
"The whole biking community here in Wichita has been wonderful," said Ruth Holliday, who owns the Bicycle Pedaler in Wichita. "They've opened their homes. They've opened their cupboards and brought treats and flowers and money to help pay for his trip back home."
Ballesteros had planned to propose to his girlfriend at the end of the cross-country Race Across America. After she flew around the globe to be with him in his hospital room, he decided to go ahead and give her the ring.
"He just broke down in tears saying who would want me like this?" Holliday explained. "And she said, 'Honey I want you no matter what."
Former Sedgwick County Commissioner Ben Sciortino, an avid cyclist himself, came to Ballesteros' side and grew close to him over the last three weeks. It was bittersweet for Sciortino to say goodbye to what he calls his new brother.
"We've sort of developed a very close relationship, so I'm sad because of that," Sciortino said. "But I'm really happy. He's going home, he's gonna be with his family in the culture he needs and that's gonna really help his rehabilitation. I just know it."
Fluent in Spanish himself, Sciortino has helped translate for Ballesteros so he understands what the doctors have been telling him. Those doctors don't know if Diego will ever walk again. Sciortino says this ordeal has not only changed Diego's life forever, but his own. He's nor more conscious of the fact that life changes can come in an instant.
"You're whole life can be changed," he said. "And if you can accept those tragedies without a lot of 'oh i wish i would've' or 'if only I had,' then live each day like it's the last because it could be."
Diego Ballesteros waved goodbye Saturday as he passed through security, thankful of the support he's been given by a country and a community he does not know.
Friday, June 9, 2010
A Spanish cyclist hit by a car during the Race Across America is going home. Diego Ballesteros remains paralyzed from the waist down after the mid-June accident in which he was struck by a distracted driver.
The last time we spoke to him, Ballesteros was trying to get money in order to be able to take a medical flight home. That money has now come through the generous donations of many in the cycling community... one in particular.
"I met him when he first had the accident," said former Sedgwick County Commissioner Ben Sciortino.
When it was discovered that a medical flight from Atlanta to Barcelona, Spain would cost more than $20,000, Sciortino stepped forward. Diego Ballesteros will begin his journey home Saturday morning.
"We've almost become like brothers because we can talk the same stories," Sciortino explained. "He used to be an avid tennis player, so did I. Then he got into marathons, so did I. And then cycling."
Ballesteros was struck by a car on K-254 as he was taking part in the Race Across America from California to Maryland. Two of his vertebrae were crushed. It will likely take 18 months of rehabilitation to determine if he'll ever walk again.
"I am a fighter," said Ballesteros. "All my life I have been a fighter. To my job, my life, my sport. I am a fighter, yes."
Local cyclists who have been supporting Diego since the crash came by Friday to give him a present. They gave him an authentic WSU cycling jersey with their signatures on it.
"What's really important is that this young man needs to get home," Ben Sciortino said. "And when he gets close to his family and to his culture where he can understand everything and the food is more comfortable for him, I think it's going to help his recuperation."
Diego, meanwhile, remains in high spirits as much as he can.
"I cannot find the words to say thanks," he says.
Even though the money has been raised to get him home, Ballesteros' insurance company is refusing to pay the medical bills. His hospital stay thus far has cost about $300,000. A fund has been set up at Carson Bank in East Wichita:
Diego Ballesteros Benefit Fund
4641 East Douglas
Wichita, KS 67218