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FORT LUPTON — On a crisp, early spring morning, Carlos Flores wheels himself into the driveway of his renovated home to greet his guest. He apologizes for not hearing the knock on the front door, then escorts his visitor inside.
He’s been in this renovated home since July 2012 after leaving Craig Hospital in Englewood. He had to go there after he tried to pass a tractor on a county road and rolled his car. Flores, who graduated from Frederick High School in 2011, is partially paralyzed.
“I’m getting along fine,” he says after settling in at his kitchen table with a bottle of water nearby. Pictures of his family and his athletic accomplishments are all over the walls of the kitchen. Flores played football for the Warriors and was an honorable-mention all-conference choice in 2010, one of 12 football players to be so honored.
“Some days are better than others,” Flores says. “The bright side is I’m going to school, doing other things that help me stay motivated. I’m going to church. Everyone has bad days. For me, it’s a struggle to be independent. I get frustrated because I can’t do every day tasks. But I make it work. I’m doing the best I can to overcome that.”
The day-to-day routine
Flores goes to school at the Aims Community College campuses in Greeley (two days a week) and Fort Lupton (one day a week). He wants to get into sports management. He sets Fridays aside for appointments.
His support group is still in place. His girlfriend, Rachel King is a big part of it. So is going to church. So are twice-a-week workouts at the Spinal Chord Recovery Project gym near Thornton, which consist of weight lifting, massages, bicycle riding and acupuncture.
“All of those things get me away from all this,” he says. “There’s a group of people I get along with at the gym. My brother (Salvador) made me a mat table so I can stretch and do things over and above what I can do at the gym. It’s easy for me to get down to the mat. But getting up? I need some assistance.”
Flores hasn’t been back to Craig Hospital since 2012. His new gym fits Flores’ long-term goals better.
“Craig was helpful. They will always be wonderful. Nothing against Craig, but SCI has a different mindset. You tell them what you want to do, and they push people. They push people to get stronger. This new gym looks at a lot of things. It has a lot of hope,” Flores explains. “They do their best to get you toward your goal.”
While he pursues the degree, he’s doing some coaching as well. He was one of the coaches for a sixth-grade football team in Brighton this season.
“Coaching was a lot of fun. Travis Letkomiller, Benji Rivera and Travis’ brother, Nick, helped a lot,” Flores says. “There are always frustrating times as a coach, especially with young kids. But it was a good experience for all of us.
“I love the game. That’s why I want to stay connected,” he continues. “Physically, I can’t play. But coaching gets me closer to the game. I take a little bit from the coaches I’ve had. I’m giving what I’ve learned to these little kids. The best thing I can do is to give them the potential to be good players, to be great players and let them pass it down.”
“I want to go that route,” he smiles. “I’d love to be a coach or a recruiter. A G.M.? That’d be great.”
The crash and its lessons
“I think about it every day, but I can’t be negative about it.”
Flores takes a sip of water and continues.
“Sure, some days are super negative. But I can overcome this, and I will walk again. I believe that faithfully. The doctors haven’t said so. But I’m going to make the best of it.”
The past two years have given Flores a bit of an education.
“For myself, I learned how mentally strong I can be,” he said. “I learned about my family and who’s going to be there for you. It can be overwhelming for them. It seems like when something traumatic happens, everything builds up and everyone shows up. When they figure out you’re going to be OK, then they slowly get off your case.”
One person who’s been by Flores’ side since the crash is Rachel King, Flores’ girlfriend. On this day, she stayed out of sight. She appeared briefly carrying a bowl of oatmeal so Flores could have some breakfast.
They met through one of Flores’ classmates, Jaron Balman. The two started dating in September 2011, just after high school graduation and about seven months before Flores was hurt.
“She’s a blessing,” Flores said. “She’s stuck with me through the whole thing. I’ve met a few people who were injured and told they would never walk again, and a lot of their girlfriends are gone. She’s been through it the whole time.
“A lot of people doubted her. I doubted her,” he continued. “She helps me with everything when my friends can’t. She pushed me to go to school, to do good things. It’s been a blessing to have her by my side.”
Flores ponders the question of a self-administered grade for the last two years. He settles on a “solid B,” but with a caveat.
“I’ve gained an attitude, and I don’t like it,” he says. “I have more of a temper. I can’t have things done my way, and I get frustrated. I don’t like that. But it tends to be like that. I try and step away from the situation. I’m learning patience, but it’s not all there.”
It’s almost time for Flores to get ready for school. But there’s one more message.
“I want to thank everyone for helping me since the beginning of this,” he says. “My room was rebuilt to make it accessible for me. I haven’t had a chance to thank people for that.”
Flores’ goals over the next year are simple.
“I’ve changed. I want to be a better person than I was before. I’ve become more faithful, and that’s going to help me reach my other goals,” Flores says between sips of water. “I want to gain more function, more muscle. But it starts with faith. It’s easy to get there. I’m doing a lot better than I was before.
“Being in this spot, I’ve learned a lot,” he continues. “It’s been a slap in the face but in a good way. It sucks to be this way. But I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve tried not to feel sorry for myself. Some people have it a lot worse. I try not to complain so much. I’m going to make the best of this and keep on going.
“That’s all you can do.”
Contact Steve Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.