On October 13 2009 the Chinook Helicopter Juan Carlos Hernandez was sitting side gunner on was struck by a rocket propelled grenade. A routine nighttime mission over Afghanistan took a fateful turn as the floor beneath Hernandez burst with schrapnel from the rpg hit causing Hernandez to loose his right leg in a beneath-the-knee amputation.
However this wasn’t JC’s first brush with danger or fear of the unknown. At the age of 9 he and his brother crossed the US/Mexico border to reunite with their mother who had crossed 6 years prior and earned enough money to bring her boys over to be with her. The fear of the unknown or the path before him didnt stop Jc from charging full force ahead. At the age of 15 he received a green card to lawfully work and reside in the US while pursuing citizenship. At the age of 18 he enlisted in the US Military and was deployed to Afghanistan in December of 2008. May of 2009 Juan Carlos passed all of the requirements for US citizenship and became a US citizen while stationed in Afghanistan. He told Ioanna Pappas of the George W. Bush Presidential Center that “It felt good. This little part of me on the inside was jumping for joy and was happy to be there,” Juan said. “For a moment, I didn’t feel like I was in Afghanistan, given everyone was wearing uniforms. I was finally a citizen. I was an American. I finally felt that this [the U.S.] was home.”
After his injury and subsequent amputation JC kept pushing into the unknown. He found cycling as a part of his recovery and put the full force of his passion and enthusiasm into using cycling to improve his health and also to show other veterans; wounded or otherwise, that post-service there is so much more to life and so many ways to experience the world. Many events and competitions resulted from his search for experience and love of the outdoors and of cycling. As a member of the US Military Endurance Sports team Juan has attended events like the Breck Epic previously. In 2016 JC met fellow US Endurance team rider and professional cyclist Rebecca Gross. The two became quick friends; sharing military experience and also a love of the extreme component races like the Breck Epic brings to the table. After several months of coaching under Gross Juan committed to racing Duo with Gross in the Open Mixed category at the Breck Epic.
Rebecca Gross brings her extensive race experience to the table in partnership with Juan. After seperating from the Air Force Gross pursued an education in sports and exercise science. She now carries a masters in Sport and Performance Psychology and trains other athletes as well as commands a substantial race calendar of her own. Gross carries the rainbow stripes on her US Military kit for a Masters World CX championship.
The two shared incredible experiences during the week’s race including harrowing Colorado Trail descents and the Wheeler Pass stage with two summits above 12,500 Feet. Rebecca Gross; not someone unfamiliar with a podium, shared that one of the weeks goals was simply to see how hard they could push themselves, to perform well and maybe get on some podiums. Hernandez broadened their mission to say that their goal is to show that competition and sport is a tool for individuals to grow closer together and share a bond which improves and enhances life together. “Especially for veterans (who dont have a connection) to each other after the military the Breck Epic is a way to continue building a bridge” to other Veterans and to other Americans said Hernandez. The “Fit for duty fit for life” motto of the US Endurance Team was in full effect for Gross and Hernandez during their week at the Breck Epic. Before the race Hernandez was excited to experience a week “full of fun and full of pain”
Gross and Hernandez finished the week in 3rd place in the Pro/Open Duo Co-Ed in a time of 23 Hours and 58 Minutes. “The downs and the ups” JC said “day in and day out over and over again teaches us something about the human spirit. There is something fascinating about being able to push yourself further than you have pushed before and and to finally understand the meaning of mind over matter.” The US Military duo absolutely showed their stuff over the week of the Breck Epic. They showed incredible tenacity, toughness, and skill to perform as consistently as the duo did. Indeed they achieved their mission of showing their toughness and fortitude across the 6 days of the Breck Epic; proving that limits are in the mind and that with a dose of camaraderie anything is possible.