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Continued: Marcelo's endurance quest

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: September 29, 2007 - 1:38 PM

The moments that follow have been burned into his memory: hearing a woman scream for help, knowing he couldn't go to her.

One of the men he'd managed to avoid hitting helped Ordaz-Cruz out of his van and to safety. For weeks following the collapse he has wanted to thank that man, but didn't know who he was. Last week he met someone who knew that man, and he had a message: Thanks for saving my life.

"I told him to say the same thing," Ordaz-Cruz said. "Because he also saved mine."

A long journey

Ordaz-Cruz was 17 when he left Mexico. He settled first in Florida, then in North Carolina, where he worked in the tobacco fields. He was 19 when his life changed forever.

He was with a group looking for some friends in a trailer park. There was another group there, too. People had been drinking and a fight broke out. A shot rang out from a trailer, hitting Ordaz-Cruz in the side. He remembers lying on the ground knowing everything had changed.

Paralyzed from the waist down, Ordaz-Cruz moved to Minnesota shortly after leaving the hospital. The rest of his family -- his parents and his brother -- moved here from Mexico to be with him. And shortly after that, Sharon VanWinkel noticed Ordaz-Cruz racing through the Courage Center.

"I'm also in a chair, so I know how valuable it is to be active," she said. "Once you see yourself gaining in strength and endurance, you see that life is easier when you're stronger. He was always a focused, determined guy."

Ordaz-Cruz had always loved playing soccer and basketball, so he was receptive. It didn't take long for him to set his sights on a marathon. Paul VanWinkel remembers the joy in Ordaz-Cruz's eyes when they crossed the finish line together three months later.

The process drew him out.

"When Marcelo first came here we had to find interpreters when he joined the basketball team here," Sharon VanWinkel said. "A couple years ago we got a young man from Honduras, and Marcelo was his interpreter."

Now, looking forward

Ordaz-Cruz continues to work to get his GED, though by his own admission he takes the summers off because of his racing schedule. He and his family, who live in Crystal, are trying to earn U.S. citizenship.

There is little time to wonder why, or what if.

"When I got shot, I thought, 'God did this to me,'" Ordaz-Cruz said. "I complained to God. But you learn that it's myself. You can choose the way you want to live the way you want to hang around. It is your choice."

And Ordaz-Cruz has chosen to participate, and hopes to be an inspiration.

This spring he finished ninth among men in the wheelchair portion of the Grandma's Marathon, setting a personal best of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 25 seconds.

He wants to go faster. Gary Westlund at Anoka-based Charities Challenge has started a drive to buy Ordaz-Cruz a state-of-the-art racing chair. The aim is to raise enough money to buy the chair and send Ordaz-Cruz to the factory to be custom-fitted.

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