LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — It was a call that would change Carrie Pedeferri and her family forever.
On Dec. 19, 2007, CHP Officer Tony Pedeferri pulled over a vehicle on the 101 Freeway just north of Camarillo when a truck loaded with recreational vehicles and fuel collided with them, causing a fiery explosion.
Experts say a driver high on marijuana sent Pedeferri shooting into the air, and at over 40 mph, the other innocent driver wouldn’t make it out.
Pedeferri was 38, husband to Carrie for 11 years, and father to Samantha, 9, and Hannah, 7.
“People were running around and just assumed I was just there somewhere, but I was wadded up in the ditch,” he recalled.
“He was unconscious, and I remember just telling him … that I was there,” Carrie said.
Pedeferri, who says he has no memory of the accident, was hospitalized for months after he suffered broken bones, a skull fracture, brain bleeds and damage to his vocal cords.
When he was finally released, he was left paralyzed in a wheelchair and faced an uncertain future both personally and professionally.
“That was the measure of your success,” said Pedeferri. ” ‘Are you working? Can you do work?’ And now, I can’t change a lightbulb. I can’t do much.”
The man who once competed in 10 Ironman triathlons, including three world championships in Hawaii, was left with only his arms to use.
But it was during his months of rehab that he was introduced to hand cycling, and a whole new world of possibilities opened up.
It soon became his passion, and it’s now how he makes a living: designing, building and modifying custom parts for others with hand cycles.
“It feels really natural and when you’re out riding; it’s one of the few times that you lose the disability,” Pedeferri said.
Just five years after the accident, the former Ironman represented the U.S. Paralympic Team at the 2012 Games in London.
Pedeferri’s daughters, now in their teens, say they really only know their dad the way he is now and adapted easily to the change.
Still, Carrie says not every day is all roses and that they have the same difficulties other couples do and challenges that are different.
“It’s all about love and patience,” she said. “He doesn’t have a choice. This is his life, but I chose to be a part of it because I love him, and I can’t be without him.”
With his family’s unconditional support, Pedeferri says he’s tackled the obstacles as they come instead of stressing over what’s around the corner.
“Some people may say, ‘You should plan a little more for the future,’ but I’m always kind of living for now because I’m never sure how long I’ll be able to stay this physical,” he said. “There may be a time where I can’t. So, I try to get it all in as much as I can.”
Click here for more information on Pedeferri’s cycle shop.