Two years ago Carlos Gutierrez lived in his native Chihuahua, Mexico and had it all — a wife, two young children and a lucrative beverage and snack concession company. Then in late September of 2011, his feet were chopped off by extortionists for failure to pay their ‘required’ $10,000 monthly allowance. He was warned that his kids’ heads were next.
That event forced Gutierrez to flee to the United States in 2011, but he’s come a long way since then. He’s learned to walk all over again with the aid of prosthetics, and now he’s training for a 670-mile two-week bike ride in which he will start from El Paso on October 28 and end in Austin on November 9.
“[The criminals] took a part of my body, but I will not stay still,” says Gutierrez.
Through “Pedaling for Justice” Gutierrez wants to bring attention to the corruption in Mexico and to the many who come to the U.S. in need of asylum.
“The Mexican exile isn’t someone who wants to invade the country,” Gutierrez tells NBC Latino in Spanish.
“On the contrary, I want to show my gratitude to all of those who have helped me. I want to inspire others with the message that when one falls, one should get back up and strive to excel and move forward.”
Gutierrez says he trains four hours a day, approximately 50 to 55 miles daily, thanks to the prosthetic legs donated to him by a stranger he met on the street in New Mexico who happened to own a prosthetics clinic.
“He extended his hand to me and told me he had to help me,” says Gutierrez. “He is my angel and will be accompanying me in my ride.”
The 35-year-old says more than anything else, he wants to continue on with his life.
“It was a very painful process, but I didn’t want to stay in bed — that’s what gave me the strength,” he says.
Gutierrez hasn’t yet told his son, who was 11 at the time of the incident, how he lost his legs. He says he didn’t want to taint his childhood, but one day he knows he’ll have to tell him the facts. In the meantime, he and his family are under the wing of Mexicanos en Exilio, a non-profit which offers legal defense to Mexicans seeking political asylum in the United States.
“We have 300 members, and many like [Gutierrez] are struggling to rebuild their lives after fleeing Mexico,” Cipriana Jurado, a board member of Mexicanos en Exilio told the El Paso Times. “It’s not easy to start over in another country that has a different language, but at least they are safe here now. Those who have work permits are trying to make ends meet by working as housekeepers and in odd jobs.”
Gutierrez says he and his family feel more secure now, living in the U.S. With the help of Mexicanos en Exilio, he was able to get a work permit, and works from 4am until 2pm at a fast food restaurant.
“We live independently, but Mexicanos en Exilio helps us with moral and psychological support,” says Gutierrez about himself and the other members of the group. Many have lost children, parents, siblings and businesses in Mexico due to extortionists.
“We all have to start from scratch,” he says.
In the midst of all the challenges he’s had to face — from learning to walk again, to learning to ride a bike and adjusting to a new culture, he says his biggest challenge has been learning English. But he won’t give up.
“It’s the language of the country, and I have to learn it,” says Gutierrez. “I am so grateful to all the Americans who have shown me so many methods of support.
Even people driving by him on the road waving at him from their cars helps him so much.
“Now with more strength, I will keep moving forward,” says Gutierrez.