From Recovery to Extraordinary O&Ps: A Journey among Friends

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By Judy Johnson Berna

Landeros and Carron receive recognition for their Paralympic achievement at a Colorado Avalanche hockey game. Photographs courtesy of Nikko Landeros.

Landeros and Carron, bottom center and right, with their teammates.

Seven years ago, two teenagers from Berthoud, Colorado, were looking forward to finishing their high school careers. Tyler Carron, a senior, was one of the top wrestlers in the state. His best friend, Nikko Landeros, a junior, joined him on the wrestling team and also showed talent on the football field. Theirs were what could be described as average teenage lives on the night of January 15, 2007, as they headed off to their school's winter dance.

By the next morning everything had changed. While they were changing a flat tire on the way home from the dance, a fellow classmate accidentally hit them, pinning them between the two vehicles. Within days both boys underwent bilateral amputations- Landeros underwent transfemoral amputations and Carron underwent a knee disarticulation and a transfemoral amputation. In the January 2008 issue of The O&P EDGE, we showed you how the boys were not only surviving, but thriving, with the overwhelming support of their community. Carron had just graduated from high school and Landeros wasn't far behind. They encouraged each other in their aggressive efforts to regain active lives.

Their accomplishments since that time indicate that the two friends have not slowed down. Landeros earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team and played in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, Canada, where the team took gold. By the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, Carron had also made the team, and both men won gold medals for the team's performance in the history-making, back-to-back U.S. victory.

People who know the pair say their friendship is a consistent theme in their journey toward success. Jason Malady, a friend and fellow sled hockey player, says that in the time he's come to know them and watch them play high-level hockey, he's been the most impressed with seeing their friendship in action. "Nikko shares stories of fighting to recover so he could be there for Tyler. Tyler wanted to get better so he could match how fast Nikko was doing things. Nikko wouldn't accept Tyler's unwillingness to play sled hockey. At every step along their story, it all comes back to each other."

Their prosthetist, Christopher Hoyt, CP, BioDesign, Denver, Colorado, agrees. "[Nikko and Tyler] were two teenagers who were inseparable best friends and competitors, tragically transformed into two bilateral transfemoral young men who are still inseparable best friends and competitors. Suffering identical injuries, it was powerful to have [his] best friend at [his] side, every step of the rehabilitation process."

That deep friendship is what led the two to claim matching gold medals in Sochi. Landeros, who had played able-bodied hockey before his injury, was ready to jump back into the sport once he completed his rehabilitation. Just three years after losing his legs, he found himself at the Vancouver Winter Paralympics. After seeing the opportunities that were opening up for Landeros, Carron was persuaded to try the sport. Now the two friends spend much of their time at the gym or on the ice together. The two also have played in the Midwest Sled Hockey League, and since 2008, as part of the Colorado Avalanche sled hockey team.

Hoyt has worked with Landeros and Carron since the beginning. There is a mutual affection when Hoyt, Landeros, and Carron speak of each other. Off the ice, Hoyt tries to keep them in equipment that can keep up with their active lifestyles. "They need to be able to work out five days per week, walk extended distances through international airports, plus wakeboard, ATV, sit-ski, fish, and party with their friends, and my goal is to eliminate or minimize wheelchair use," says Hoyt. "A successful fitting can allow the patient to focus on life matters. An uncomfortable, poorly fitting prosthesis can negatively affect lifestyle, personality, work...."

Landeros and Carron wear similar devices. They have suction suspension, custom gel liners, microprocessor knees, Freedom Innovations' Renegade feet, and positional rotators. In addition to their daily prosthetic systems, Hoyt created activity-specific short prostheses for them to use when getting on and off the ice rink, and as protection for their residual limbs when they are in their sleds.

Although Landeros and Carron spend the bulk of their time staying in shape and practicing their sports, they have also been instrumental in giving back to the small town community that rallied behind them after the accident. Together they formed the Champion of Life Rally, a fundraiser held every January in honor of the success they have found since their accident. Their goal is to raise funds for an individual who has suffered an illness or injury and needs community support. Recipients have included a local man who needed a kidney transplant, a middle school student facing cancer, and most recently a Berthoud High School student who lives with severe mental and physical disabilities.

2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team

The 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.

Landeros and Carron go back to their school to talk to the current students about what it's like to overcome adversity. The town had fundraisers in the months after the accident, and a few years later welcomed Landeros home from the Vancouver Games with a parade. Although there were plans for a parade to honor the Sochi gold-medal win as well, they had to be put on hold due to both men's schedules. Even though Landeros now lives in Johnstown, Colorado, and Carron lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, they say they will always consider Berthoud their home. "We wouldn't be where we are without Berthoud," says Landeros, "We wouldn't have these medals."

When asked if he ever drives by that spot on the road where the accident occurred, Landeros says yes. "It's a beautiful road. I think about it when I drive by, but I also think about the fact I'm alive. I've met a lot of amazing people. I don't dwell on the what ifs. I don't care what it would have been. This is my life now. And I'm enjoying it."

Landeros and Carron have overcome life circumstances that are hard to comprehend. Sometimes even their prosthetist says he forgets that the two wear prosthetic limbs, ones he carefully designed for them. "One of my fondest memories was just after watching them win a national sled hockey tournament. Here were two bilateral, above-knee amputees leaving the hockey arena, sled in one hand, 65-pound gear bag in the other, and walking step over step down a steep ramp to their trucks, without assistance." With perseverance like that, Carron and Landeros will continue to be gold medal men.

Judy Johnson Berna is an elective amputee who enjoys keeping up with her husband and four children in their home state of Colorado. Her first book, Just One Foot: How Amputation Cured My Disability, was released in September 2012. She can be reached via her website, www.justonefoot.com