Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Veteran chooses victory over disability

Francisco Lopez-de-Victoria, 63, was forced to use a wheelchair after a 2000 back surgery went awry. The Navy retiree, who, served three tours in Vietnam and in Grenada, recently won two medals at the 28th Wheelchair Veterans Games in Omaha, Neb.


Francisco Lopez-de-Victoria, 63, was forced to use a wheelchair after a 2000 back surgery went awry. The Navy retiree, who, served three tours in Vietnam and in Grenada, recently won two medals at the 28th Wheelchair Veterans Games in Omaha, Neb.

Sometimes just getting out the door is hard for Francisco Lopez-de-Victoria. His red wheelchair often gets wedged in the narrow frame of his apartment's front door. • "It's almost like jumping a hurdle every morning," the 63-year-old said.

It's a marked change from his earlier life in which he spent more than 25 years in the Navy and played softball internationally.

A simple back procedure in 2000 left him having to use a wheelchair. Now, grass is treacherous. Curbs are insurmountable.

He spent hours in his native Puerto Rico underneath a mango tree, counting crawling ants and slowly trekking the path toward insanity, said his wife, Nereida.

But then his nephew rescued him by introducing him to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, Lopez-de-Victoria said.

The first year he took gold in each sport he played: table tennis, bowling, archery, shot put and weightlifting.

"If it wasn't for the games, I don't know," his wife said. "I think the games are what kept him sane."

Lopez-de-Victoria of Clearwater competed in his fifth National Veterans Wheelchair Games in late July, collecting a gold medal in archery and bronze in bowling.

• • •

Lopez-de-Victoria was drafted into the Army in 1963. He was soon sent to Vietnam for the first of three tours.

He later joined the Navy and became a jack-of-all-trades of sorts, he said. He served as a flight engineer, airplane mechanic and pilot.

Sports always played a major role in his life, he said. He played for several international softball teams, including Canada and Puerto Rico. If it weren't for the Navy, he might have gone pro.

But the lower back surgery left him out of work and relearning everything he knew.

"I loved my job," he said. "And all of the sudden I found myself with nothing. Nothing."

He sunk into a deep depression. His nephew, Orlando Perez, understood. The wheelchair games helped Perez, an Army veteran, cope with his disability.

"It made me equal again in the playing field out in the world," Perez said.

He thought the least he could do was introduce Lopez-de-Victoria to the games, Perez said.

"When I was a kid, I used to watch him play softball and do archery," Perez said. "He was a great inspiration to me."

But Perez has become a bigger inspiration to his uncle, Lopez-de-Victoria said. One year he watched as Perez gave up the gold medal in a relay race to help a competitor across the finish line.

"It's not ever really about the competition," Lopez-de-Victoria said. "It's about being together."

• • •

Although the competition gets harder each year, Lopez-de-Victoria has won seven gold medals, four silver and three bronze. His wife helps him train for seven months in the off season, walking with him as an unofficial coach.

His new handcycle arrived last month. He hopes to win the 5K race next year.

"He feels like a kid with his brand new toy," his wife said. "He wants me to get a handcycle, too, but I'll walk."

Ultimately, Lopez-de-Victoria hopes he can help young, injured soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. He would like them to find hope for the future in his perseverance.

"The medals are great," he said. "But the goal is different."

Veteran chooses victory over disability 08/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2008 8:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.