Sports: Handcycling, Triathlon
Highlights: Five-time handcycling world champion; gold in the team relay at the 2012 Paralympic Games; first place overall at the 2011 UCI Para-Cycling World Cup series; finisher at the 2010 Ironman World Championships in Hawaii
Quote: “My motto was ‘Know no limits,’ and it wasn’t until I had a significant accident that I really started believing that we can do things above and beyond our perceived limits.”
Fun Fact: While in the military, Sanchez was deployed twice to the Middle East and other hostile regions.
AT50 Point Total: 34.5
Oscar Sanchez overcame his first major obstacle when he graduated from high school, leaving behind the drugs and violence of hard-edged L.A. street life to become a hard-bodied Marine. He adapted well to the discipline and routine of military life, and excelled through the ranks until he eventually joined the Marine Corps' Special Forces team, FORCE RECON. Sanchez served in 14 different countries before deciding to transfer to the military's most well-known and elite force, the Navy Seals.
While Sanchez’s youth is a success story in itself, the next chapter of his life is even more miraculous. In July 2001, a hit-and-run motorcycle accident left Sanchez paralyzed by a spinal cord injury. None of the incredible physical and mental challenges he'd faced in the Special Forces could compare with what he would face going forward. To pull himself out of his post-injury depression, Sanchez adopted what he calls a “proactive approach to life.” He completed a degree in business administration and public communications at San Diego State University in 2006 and began competing in the adaptive sports of handcycling and triathlon.
Before long, his mental fortitude and physical toughness translated to athletic success and he won several titles. Now, more than a decade after his accident, Sanchez is a five-time handcycling world champion, a Paralympic gold- and silver-medalist, and an Ironman (he finished the 2010 Ironman World Championships). He's also a motivational speaker and an official spokesperson for the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation, both roles through which he hopes to pass on a piece of his indomitable spirit.
—Megan Taylor Morrison