CAMARILLO (CBSLA.com) — A local veteran who lost his legs in combat, on his third deployment in Afghanistan, was given the gift Thursday of a $14,000 all-terrain wheelchair.
The money for the chair came from ten strangers — employees of Neuspeed in Camarillo — who each decided to give $1,000 of their Christmas bonuses to retired Staff. Sgt. Odin Ayala.
CBS2’s Amy Johnson was there when Ayala excitedly tried out the console for his new chair.
The 28-year-old former high school football player and hiking enthusiast told Johnson that the worse thing about losing his legs was losing his freedom of movement.
The new chair will go along way with helping him get that freedom back. He couldn’t wait to take the chair out for a practice spin.
“Probably the only thing I can say right now,” Ayala said, “is that it’s hard to find the words. I’m very grateful.”
It was September 2011 when Ayala stepped on an IED.
“I remember turning around, walking, and then the next thing I know, my sight and my hearing pretty much went away.”
When he regained consciousness, four days later, Ayala’s legs were gone.
“What really killed me about the incident,” he says, matter-of-fact, “was my independence. I had to reply on so many people.”
Ayala didn’t realized he would also get help from the kindness of strangers.
Neuspeed employee John Franco said giving up part of his Christmas bonus was not a hard decision. “It was definitely worth it. Such a young guy, and right off the bat he already knew what to use it for and how to use it.”
“It was a good idea and everybody was on board,” said another of the employees.
The employees told Johnson that the decision to give was the easy part. They received dozens of letters from veterans in need.
Ayala’s letter, said one employee, “tugged at your heart the most, out of everybody.”
Now that Ayala can get up and down a field with ease, he hopes to coach high school football.
He told Johnson he has a long “to do” list and now with the chair, there is really nothing off-limits.
“I’ve never been hunting,” Ayala said, “but I’ve been wanting to. It’s something that I will probably do now that I have this.”
He still knows he needs to work on the proper way to say thank you to the strangers.
“I feel like I need to pay back some other way in the future. Right now, they say that I have done enough, but to me, I was just doing my job out there.”
Ayala added, “All that I can say is thank you. I can’t find the words to tell them how much I appreciate it.”