Grand Rapids’ Omar Bermejo Competes for U.S. in Sochi Paralympic Winter Games [Video]
Omar Bermejo believes.
He believes he can overcome. He believes in himself.
That steadfastness and determination has brought the 31-year-old former Marine to surmount an amputation of part of a severed arm suffered in a June 2009 motorcycle accident. It has the Grand Rapids resident at the pinnacle competing representing the U.S. in two disciplines at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in Russia.
"I do not claim to be anywhere in the realm of Olympians and their path to glory just as Olympians cannot claim the path to mine," Bermejo writes in his blog. "I am a Paralympian.
"I might look different and I might not be as fast as my fellow able-bodied skiers and marksmen, but I have every single intention to being successful at my craft as they are."
Bermejo is competing in cross-country skiing and biathlon. He part of an 80-athlete U.S. contingent that includes 16 U.S. military veterans and two U.S. active duty military personnel at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games.
Alpine skier Jon Lujan, a retired U.S. Marine Corps sergeant like Bermejo, is the opening ceremony flag bearer for Team USA. The Sochi Games run today through March 16 with 692 athletes from 45 nations competing in alpine skiing, nordic skiing (biathlon and cross-country), sled hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling.
"I must say I am extremely excited and nervous," Bermejo says in his blog.
Bermejo has found plenty of support over the past five years in overcoming emotional, mental and physical hurdles and in rebuilding his life. Joining him in Sochi are his mother, Rosa Bermejo; his two sisters, Edna and Tania; and his girlfriend, Lindsey Hall.
Having spent nearly 10 years in the Marine Corps and risen to the rank of sergeant, Bermejo went through depression after the amputation. He said he looked for a reason to stay motivated in everyday life, having been injured in the accident after four deployments to Iraq.
He found some direction just weeks after the amputation of his dominant right arm. While at the Tucson (Ariz.) Veterans Administration Medical Center getting treatment, he learned of an opportunity to rehab doing biathlon -- a combination of cross-country skiing and shooting.
Originally from Mexico, the 2000 Union High School and 2013 University of Phoenix graduate had picked up snowboarding after his family immigrated to Grand Rapids. At a rehabilitation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. four months after his amputation, Bermejo put on cross-country skis for the first time and fell in love with the sport.
"Tried it, loved it and now look at me," he said in his blog. "In the midst of my second season and already have achieved this level."
Bermejo is a product of the Semper Fi Fund, or Team Semper Fi. It helps in the recovery of injured Marines and sailors through recreational activities and sports.
A resident athlete at the Wood River Ability Program in Sun Valley, Idaho, he spent time last summer training at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou, Maine. A member of the U.S. Paralympics nordic skiing development team the past two years, he has had five top 10 finishes with the best being fifth place at World Cup events.
"I am proud! In this last year I have achieved and experienced things that there's no way I would have done if it wasn't for skiing," he said in his blog.
"First and foremost, I have learned to live and compete with a disability that has allowed me to appreciate life and find what my character is made of, and I have found out that my soul still burns and I love it."
Rosa Bermejo is the housekeeping manager at Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Grand Rapids. In honor of Omar Bermejo's Paralympic achievement, it is offering a special rate through March 9 for the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games' opening weekend with $10 of each night donated to the Semper Fi Fund.