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Love, Ability, and The Puerto Rico Flag

Orlando Perez’s Journey To The Winter Games

While recovering from a paralyzing injury sustained while serving in the U.S. Army, Orlando Perez found inspiration watching intense games of wheelchair basketball. Four years later, he joined the Puerto Rico team. After years of success and numerous awards on the court, Orlando found the National Ability Center (NAC) through Marcy, a Park City local and his eventual wife. He moved to Utah to train with their High Performance Team, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“LOVE and the NAC brought me to the right place.”

Soon after Orlando retired from wheelchair basketball in 2017, he dove full-speed into competitive skiing. “Going from a team sport to an individual sport is completely different,” he says, “it’s just you and the mountain, the hill, and the racecourse.”

One of the challenges he faced in this transition was learning to read constantly changing terrain, as opposed to the predictability of a basketball court. Unfortunately, he also faced a lack of accessibility at a lot of resorts—barriers like stairs, snowy sidewalks, and angled slopes make getting around a challenge. But, he says when he gets to the ski run, “all barriers are done.”

“We are ABLE! Able to ski, get on the chairlift, and shred like anyone!”

The more competitive Orlando’s skiing became, the more time and strategy he put into training. Marcy is not only his wife but also his personal strength trainer, who guides him through a variety of activities that promote balance and functional strength. From racquetball to improve his neuromuscular connection to resistance training in a 125-degree sauna, they’re very creative in how they approach dryland workouts.

“We [adaptive athletes] are here to stay. Our events are real and athletic, not a pity party.”

On snow, Orlando trains with the NAC team up to 5 days each week. As a slalom and giant slalom competitor, he is working on exploding out of the gate at the start of the race. Unfortunately, the lack of snow this season has made it difficult to practice with gates regularly. “Our snow training days have been cut short since we had to share the small terrain space,” Orlando says. Still, each day includes focus drills, skills practice, video analysis, and giving their skis a wax and tune so they’re ready for the next day. From there, it’s on to recovery work—Marcy works with him every evening, and they sometimes practice restorative yoga.

“To put my Puerto Rico flag on a stage it’s never been on before is my biggest honor.”

Orlando will be the first adaptive athlete to represent Puerto Rico at the Winter Games, and he can’t wait “to gather with the world’s best, bring our countries together in peace, and compete to show the world our skills.”

While the goals of doing his best, and of course, winning, are on Orlando’s mind, he says he’s most looking forward “to basking and enjoying every minute of it from the village to the venue heading to the race.”

Read how the Games went for Orlando HERE.