That was maybe more than 30 years ago, and the bike he rides today may be different from the mountain bike he rode as a kid, but the appeal of the sport remains the same.
Today cycling is also his job. Sanchez, one of the best handcyclists in the world, is a six-time medalist at three Paralympic Games and also has several world titles.
In the years following a spinal cord injury sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2001, Sanchez discovered hand cycling; The influence of sport on his life was immediate.
“When I started riding it was literally a feat just driving around the block,” he says.
“But I felt so alive because of the adrenaline and blood pumping and just the feel-good chemicals of exercise.
“It was addicting, but it was still all just the idea of getting out of the house and letting go of my frustrations with my broken back and the accident.”
“The way, not the goal”
After joining the US Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of joining the Navy as a Navy SEAL at the time of the accident.
“We are talking about a transition from special operations, kicking doors and hostage rescue mentalities in military operations to today: You have broken your back, you have caused permanent damage, you will never leave,” says Sanchez.
“I mean, the idea that I was competitive at every level wasn’t on my mind at all at the time. It was literally just so I could get out of the house and save myself from madness.”
But over the years, Sanchez gradually moved into racing and was introduced to the US Paralympic team before Beijing in 2008.
There he won gold in the time trial and bronze in the road race. Two games and four more medals later, he’s now preparing to compete in the Tokyo Paralympics, noting that his view of his success has changed over the years.
“I felt so utterly broken and worthless because of my interpretation and perception that I am a person with a disability who cannot walk. These medals meant that I was still a successful person and therefore I was worthy because of these medals” says Sanchez, reflecting on his feelings after his first Paralympic Games.
“But now I don’t struggle with this depression and this mindset anymore. My body may be broken per se, but I’m not broken. And so the medals are now more proof of who I have become.
“Rather than being tied or identified with my successes, I am more connected and identified with my ability to achieve those successes – the journey, not the destination.”
Tokyo will be the next step in the journey, with the Paralympics starting on August 24th.
As for Sanchez, he is ready to take on the situation as well as most other challenges.
“The idea of going to Tokyo or even traveling internationally does not really threaten me from many of these things because I have in the back of my mind – and that obviously has a lot to do with my military background and my attitude towards the special forces – – me almost want to throw it at me just to prove to myself that I can handle it, “he says.
“It’s this very spartan, daredevil and pit bull mentality. But from a social perspective, the question is what is ethically, morally most prudent and strategically best to resolve and overcome this pandemic as quickly as possible … the Answer.” is never clear and it is never easy. “
He adds that he likes to leave it to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to “be the thinkers and I do the action.”
Currently, Sanchez’s schedule is two to three hours, four to five days a week, of his home in San Diego County, California.
In addition to cycling, other, more unusual aspects of exercise are part of his routine, such as taking a cold shower every morning.
“I don’t even touch the hot stick … that’s the protocol,” says Sanchez.
“Nobody likes to take a cold shower. So if you learn to deal with these thoughts and this experience and the chaos that precedes the cold shower, you will benefit from thought management.”
The birth of his son in September also means that Sanchez now has to balance the training with the emotional pull of being at home: “Sometimes I have to say: ‘No, no, we have to stick to the plan, the little guy later that evening’ “, he says.
It’s a conflict of emotions that he’ll likely struggle with for a while.
“I would have said the likelihood of retiring after these games was one of the options I found entertaining, especially now that I’ve wandered into fatherhood and family and all that,” he says.
“But certain opportunities have arisen to stimulate me possibly up to the 2028 Games due to the nature of their location in Los Angeles, where the majority of my family are based.”