Paralympic athletes Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros have come a long way since the tragic accident in 2007 that left them as double amputees.

When the U.S. sled hockey team won gold at the Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea recently, a dynamic duo familiar to many Northern Coloradans were an integral part of the team. Eleven years after a tragic accident in Larimer County left them both as double amputees, Nikko Landeros and Tyler Carron by all accounts are happy and healthy. And fast.

The two complete a team of 17 from across the country that coach Guy Gosselin says is a tight-knit group, with one common attribute: All have a physical impairment. Many, like Landeros and Carron, have lost limbs.

“We have cancer survivors (and) veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who were blown up,” Gosselin said.
Needless to say, the men have shown their mettle on and off the ice.

The team trained in Chicago, working out before dawn, having daily practice games, evening games, and competitions out of town. “But it’s mental toughness that creates the will to keep going,” said Carron.

Added Landeros, “We have great players. We trust each other. We have each other’s backs, like family.”

Nikko stays calm under pressure and can see plays develop in advance, Gosselin said, while “Tyler is one of the most reliable players we have, very competitive.”

Carron puts it this way: “I can hit and I’m not afraid of getting hit.”

Landeros says his skill set involves “vision of the ice” and acting as a kind of quarterback.

The Tragedy

In 2007, Landeros and Carron were Berthoud High School classmates—best friends and wrestling teammates—trying to change a tire on a dark road after a school dance. An SUV slammed into them and pinned both between the two vehicles.

Their lower legs couldn’t be saved. Landeros’ surgery left him an above-the-knee, or “transfemoral” amputee. Carron’s amputation was above the knee on one leg and through the knee on the other. They were 17 years old.
And resilient. The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, developed at Duke University, identifies social and psychological factors, expanded on by others, that go into getting us through our toughest days. Michu Storoni, MD, PhD, in her 2017 book “Stress Proof,” explains how it works: Optimism is first. Seeing a glass half full, taking a long view, having hope creates grit, she writes. Second, “cognitive reappraisal” that, for example, sees a setback as an opportunity for growth, lowers distress. Third, it’s important to see yourself as a strong, good person, and, fourth, you need a few people who care about and support you. Fifth is physical fitness: Exercise benefits brain and body. The final factor is active coping. ”When you meet a setback or crisis, it’s essential to respond by taking action,” Storoni advises.

Nikko Landeros has a “good vision of the ice and can see plays develop in advance,” says U.S. coach Guy Gosselin. Landeros made his third trip to the Paralympic Games in March. Photo courtesy of Allesandro Crea

It’s not easy. When first hurt, “I was in a dark place and we both had our rough times,” Landeros said. “What got us through was each other and our families.”

Carron agreed: “I always had a family member with me in the hospital 24/7” and both families were “every day praying for us” in the chapel. Another factor: community support.

“They had a million dollars in medical bills, and people came out of the woodwork to help and raise money,” says Dave Gamache, director of regional development for Ambassadors of Compassion and a former youth worker in Fort Collins. There were Berthoud spaghetti dinners. Wrestling events. A generous coach. Donations from around the world.
“It blew us away,” Landeros said.

Role Models

Determined to give back, they started visiting schools in Castle Rock, Littleton, Lafayette and Boulder. They told students it’s normal to feel depressed and angry if something bad happens, that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness and popularity is not as important as having “one good friend.”

Meanwhile, they found themselves celebrities featured in Parade Magazine, a PBS documentary, and, most recently for Landeros, a United Airlines ad campaign where he’s a superhero named “Fury.”

“I can hit and I’m not afraid of getting hit,” says Tyler Carron, at left in the picture above. He has made two trips to the Paralympics. Photo courtesy of Hockey Canada Images

“It can get overwhelming,” Landeros admitted, and people can get “negative or jealous at your success. It sucks, but you have to overcome the hate” and avoid the negativity. Just as on the ice, he rolls with the punches.
The two agreed that their prosthetist and friend, Christopher Hoyt with BioDesign in Denver, has played a major role. Like many amputees, they’ve had prosthetic problems, but, says Nikko, “I believe you get out what you put in.”

He and Carron wear Ottobock C-Legs with microprocessor controlled knees, and at one point one of Landeros’s knees started buckling. A glitch. Ottobock replaced it. Of the incident, Nikko simply said, “humans make mistakes.”
In the end “we’re pretty lucky,” Carron mused. “We’re still here and able to enjoy life. You go through something like this and you don’t take things for granted.”

Landeros said limb loss has led to his travels around the country and around the world. “I’ve seen the worst and the best. My goal is being happy and my life is pretty good.”

Many of these attitudes and lifeways are straight out of the Resilience Scale playbook. Can they be cultivated, learned? Yes. And thus, you too can transmute dark days into brighter colors and a bit of gold.

Carolyn Cosmos is a freelance writer in Boulder. To comment on this article, send an email to letters@nocostyle.com.

Sled Hockey 101

Sled hockey is ice hockey with different equipment. Rules and game play are largely the same, and each team starts with three forwards, two defensemen and a goalie.

Sled hockey players have lower-body impairments and upper-body strength. They sit in, and balance on, double-bladed sleds about four inches above the ice and use two hockey sticks with blade ends for puck handling and pic ends for propulsion.

Fast and furious, with three 15-minute periods, the idea is to get that puck into the other team’s net. It’s a sport that the U.S. team has excelled at. Nikko Landeros has brought home gold from the Winter Games three times and Tyler Carron joined him as gold medalist at the last two Paralympics.

April Is Limb Loss Awareness Month

This month, activities and events will be held across the nation by amputees and their supporters to celebrate the limb-loss community and educate the public and policymakers about amputation and limb-loss prevention. According to the Amputee Coalition, more than 2 million Americans live with limb loss, a number that includes tens of thousands of Coloradans.

The month also provides an opportunity to let amputees in Colorado know that they don’t have to struggle with limb loss alone. Following is a list of amputee support groups in the area that amputees can contact to learn about upcoming activities and events that may be planned in their area for Limb Loss Awareness Month or simply to connect with other amputees for peer support, information, and social interaction throughout the year.

Colorado UnLimbited Children
Susan McGuire
(303) 766-2214

Innovative Prosthetics Allstars
(303) 832-1750
innovativeprosthetics@msn.com

Amputees can also learn about upcoming activities/events at www.amplitude-media.com/Calendar, www.amputee-coalition.org/calendar-events, and www.amputee-coalition.org/events-programs/limb-loss-awareness-month.
For additional information about living with limb loss, visit Amplitude Media Group, which is based in Northglenn, at www.amplitude-media.com and the Amputee Coalition at www.amputee-coalition.org.