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How This Combat Wounded Soldier Went From Wheelchair To Triathlon

August 02, 2014
Soldier Went From Wheelchair To Triathlon

Sgt. 1st Class Raul Otero, a native of Bronx, N.Y., competes in a running event during a triathlon (Army photo)

Sgt. 1st Class Raul Otero, a native of Bronx, N.Y., spent two years in a wheel chair with combat injuries, and was told he’d never run again. He fought to stay in the Army, and now serves as an inspiration to our nation.

Excepted from a report from TORII STATION, Okinawa, Japan

From a wheelchair to the finish line, Sgt. 1st Class Raul Otero knows what it is like to keep fighting to stay in the fight.


Life changed quickly for Otero on a fateful day just north of Ramadi, Iraq, in May, 2007.

While on patrol inspecting houses north of Ramadi, Otero and some of the men in his element stopped 200 meters from a housing area after seeing evidence of suspicious activity in the town. As Otero stood up to scan the town for activity, an enemy sniper fired a round into the torso of Otero who was protected by his body armor but was knocked to the ground. He regained his footing and stood again only to receive a second shot, this time in the right leg. His tibia shattered, and Otero was evacuated for medical treatment.

Otero underwent three surgeries. Prior to completing the first surgery, his doctor asked him what he would like to do once he recovered. Otero replied that he wanted to be “as good as before, in fact better.”

Soldier Went From Wheelchair To Triathlon

He wanted to run but the doctor told Otero that he would never run again. Otero spent the next two years in a wheelchair. During the summer of 2009, he was watching his 8-year-old daughter swim.

“I wonder if I can swim,” said Otero, pondering ways of being able to swim.

Using a buoy between his legs, Otero jumped in the pool with his daughter. By the end of 2009, the man who was not to run again began to expand his goals past the pool and once more to competing on land. Otero completed the Savannah, Ga., River Bridge Run in December 2009 without the use of a cane. A remarkable accomplishment for a man who had been wheelchair bound only seven months earlier.

“I can pass my PT test,” Otero professed just as the Army was considering removing him from its ranks.

Despite his unexpected progress, Otero was still pending separation from the Army due to his injuries but beat the odds and passed the Army physical fitness test, proving that he could still serve.

Otero was reassigned in April 2010 as a senior human resources sergeant. In 2010, after transferring to Okinawa, Otero set a goal to complete his first triathlon along with his daughter. He completed the Futenma triathlon in August 2010 and has since gone on to complete 16 triathlons of varying distances. Perhaps above all, Otero deployed to Afghanistan from Okinawa during the months of March through October 2012.

In Otero’s words, “I wanted to deploy and face the enemy one more time.”