Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros: A Year In The Life...

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By Brady Delander

Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros will never forget 2007. For the teenagers, it was a year that started with tragedy on the side of a cold, snow-swept road in Berthoud, Colorado, and ended with the two resuming the activities they love--this time on Otto Bock C-Legs®. In one staggering year, Carron and Landeros watched a town divide and then unite in a flurry of support, all the while trying to cope, recover, and forge ahead themselves.

Nikko Landeros, left, and Tyler Carron, right, pose with ring announcer Bruce Buffer before an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Carron family.
Nikko Landeros, left, and Tyler Carron, right, pose with ring announcer Bruce Buffer before an Ultimate Fighting Championship bout in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo courtesy of the Carron family.

When Carron entered his senior year at Berthoud High School in 2006, he was ranked third in his weight class among all Colorado wrestlers. Landeros was a fellow wrestler and a defensive lineman on Berthoud's football team. The two were fast friends. Neither could have anticipated how their lives were about to change.

On January 15, 2007, Carron and Landeros were looking for tools to change a flat tire on the Isuzu Trooper Carron had been driving, while two other friends waited inside the vehicle. They were on a narrow, dark country road, just one mile away from Berthoud High School, where they had all attended a winter formal dance. Landeros and Carron stood at the rear of the SUV, rummaging around for a tire iron or jack. No one saw the headlights approaching from behind until it was too late.

A high school classmate driving along that same stretch of road slammed her SUV into the back of Carron's Isuzu, pinning the boys between the two vehicles. In the chaos that followed, wrestling teammates Nicholas Reinhard and Spenser Sadlo arrived on the scene and used belts as tourniquets in an attempt to stop the bleeding. A crew from the Berthoud Fire Protection District administered aid until Carron and Landeros were airlifted to Denver Health Medical Center. They were in serious condition, and a lack of blood flow to their legs caused by trauma from the impact necessitated amputations for both boys--bilateral transfemoral for Landeros, and knee-disarticulation on one leg and transfemoral on the other for Carron.

The accident devastated the town of Berthoud, population 5,200, mingling sorrow and grief with anger and lawsuits. Accusations of irresponsibility were tossed at all involved during those first emotional days and ensuing months. But the rally of support was compelling. Famed novelist and newspaper columnist Mitch Albom described how a community responded in PARADE Magazine (May 13, 2007):

"One week after the accident, 200 kids and 100 adults gathered at Berthoud High School and called everyone in the local phone book, seeking aid for the injured boys. Within hours, they'd raised $54,000.... Within a month, more than 100 events had been held or scheduled. And to date, total pledges approach $450,000, according to the community group whose website name couldn't be more fitting: Berthoudcares.com."

The Road to Recovery

The first figurative step on the road to recovery occurred at the pinnacle of Colorado high school wrestling--the 72nd annual state wrestling championships in February at the Pepsi Center in Denver, home to professional sports teams the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. As Landeros and Carron were wheeled out to the middle of the floor one month after the accident, the sold-out crowd delivered a standing ovation. "Our goal was to make it to state," Carron said that night.

Tyler Carron walked to the stage to accept his high school diploma. Photo courtesy of the Carron family.
Tyler Carron walked to the stage to accept his high school diploma. Photo courtesy of the Carron family.

The recovery process pushed forward after that. Endless days of therapy followed, as did a string of milestones and highlights. Thanks to a fund established by the Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Association and other donations, Landeros and Carron were treated to a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they watched an Ultimate Fighting Championship match. Days later they were honorary starters at the Bolder Boulder, a 10-kilometer road race that for nearly 30 years has seen the world's elite runners dart along the streets of Boulder. They also shared dinner with triple-amputee Cameron Clapp, who was hit by a train in 2001 at age 19 (Editors note: To read about Clapp, read "Unquenchable Spirit: The Cameron Clapp Story" from our February 2006 issue).

In March of 2007, the two were fitted with Otto Bock C-Legs. But first it was the dreaded "short legs" to help them develop the core strength and balance needed to operate the C-Legs. Christopher Hoyt, CP, director of prosthetics and education at BioDesign Inc., in Denver, said it wasn't easy pacing his new patients. "Whenever I mentioned short legs to these guys, I thought they were going to fire me," Hoyt says.

Their progress was remarkable. A month after the first session with short legs, they tested out the full C-Leg, using poles for added support. "Trying to find my balance was weird. I felt pretty unstable," Carron says. Less than a month later, the poles were dropped and Carron and Landeros took their first strides on their own. Whereas before the accident, the friends had challenged each other on the football field or in the gym, in the months that followed their friendly competition continued during rehabilitation sessions. "If I see Nikko walking better than me, I want to keep up," says Carron.

Hoyt noted that it took the pair about half the time to become proficient on C-Legs as the average bilateral transfemoral patient. There were challenges--notably scar tissue, issues with heterotopic ossification, and Landeros' shorter residual limbs. Still, neither of the young men looked back.

Walking Toward a Milestone

One of the biggest highlights of the past year came when Carron, with the muscular frame of a wrestler, walked on his new C-Legs to receive his high school diploma. "Tyler really pushed himself for graduation. He was motivated," Hoyt says. Carron's father, Bruce, cried and Landeros cheered. The classmate driving the other SUV in the accident also received a supportive round of applause. Sitting down again, Carron pointed his left leg to the sky and waved the prosthesis to his family and friends in the stands.

"I have a huge family, and they are all very supportive," says Carron, who has two older brothers. "When I tried out my new legs, my family was all there." Now Carron cautiously walks around the Front Range Community College campus in Fort Collins on the C-Legs, nervous about falling yet determined to move forward.

Nikko Landeros testing out running legs. Photo courtesy of Christopher Hoyt.
Nikko Landeros testing out running legs. Photo courtesy of Christopher Hoyt.

"Its a totally different way to walk. When I'm on campus or in public, I'm always afraid I'm going to fall," Carron says. "Before the accident I never knew they had legs like this. If I had seen someone walking with these things, it's like, Wow!" At seven pounds each, a weight Hoyt says is comparatively light, C-Legs can still grind on a guy who Hoyt calls a "super jock."

"I deal more with fatigue than pain," says Landeros, who is a few cheeseburgers shy of 200 pounds, depending on the season. "You walk all day and then you have wrestling practice right after that. It can wear you out."

Sticking It to the Competition

On December 1, 2007, Landeros returned to the wrestling mat and pinned one of his three opponents in a junior varsity tournament. Getting back on the varsity roster is a new goal. "I've had to change my style, but I'm so low (to the mat) now that it helps. But it's easier to get myself in a bad situation and get pinned because I don't have legs," Landeros says.

Landeros is scheduled to graduate from high school in the spring of 2008, and he plans to join Carron in college. Carron talks about transferring to one of the larger state universities, and that's about as far into the future as either have looked. Both say it's harder to carve time out of their schedules and that they don't spend as much time together anymore. But Landeros, caught on the phone late one night during the holiday season, said he was within grappling distance of Carron at that moment. "He's here right now. We still find a way to hang out."

Brady Delander can be reached at brady@opedge.com