Lisa S. Lenkiewicz CTLatinoNews.com
Yukence Andino, of New Haven, a former champion professional boxer in his native Puerto Rico, was the victim of gun violence in 2008 in the projects of Monte Hatillo in his hometown of Rio Piedras. While protecting a family member in a dispute, says Andino, two men shot him several times, including two gunshots to the head, a bullet in his heart along with bullets in each arm, his back and his shoulder. He was left for dead.
Miraculously, he survived. Doctors believe his extraordinary conditioning and strong heart and lungs played a large role in him beating the odds. A sparring partner for Oscar De la Hoya when he fought against Floyd Mayweather and Ricardo Mayorga and himself a Golden Glove champion, Andino never used weights to train. He used his own body weight to work out, forms of exercise known as calisthenics and isometrics, the Spanish speaker explains in halting English in a phone interview with CTLatinoNews.com.
The 33 year old is one of more than 18 million people in America living with restrictive mobility challenges, according to the National Mobility Awareness Equipment Dealers Associations. May is National Mobility Awareness Month; its purpose is to bring attention to and show the world how people with disabilities can live an active, mobile lifestyle.
Today, Andino, who first boxed as a six-year-old, is confined to a wheelchair and is medically classified as a T2-T3 paraplegic. He can move his arms but is unable to walk and struggles with chronic pain. Yet, he maintains a positive attitude and has adapted to his new daily life. “Despite his condition, he now uses his strength and fight to move forward every day,” says his girlfriend Jailene Ramos.
Andino, who left Puerto Rico for Connecticut to be near his sister, has ambitious plans for his future. He wants to go back to school to get his G.E.D. and has dreams of becoming a trainer for other boxers. At Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, where he engages in physical therapy, he has joined their Sports Association and hopes to play wheelchair tennis.
Ramos has nominated Andino as her “hero” in an online contest sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association for a chance to win a wheelchair accessible vehicle. The association will be giving away four such vehicles: one to a caregiver, one to a senior (60+), one that is battery powered for in-town driving only and one in the general category. Anyone is allowed to “vote” once a day for their local hero featured in the contest. To vote for Yukence Andino, visit: www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com. Voting ends on May 31.
“One of the things I most admire about Yukence is how resilient he is and how he has adapted to his new course of life. He is an extraordinary man, with a heart of gold,” says Ramos in her written submission for the contest. “Should he be declared the winner of an accessible vehicle, there is no stopping this man with what he sets his heart out to do.”