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Athletics

Juan Jose Florian lost arms to Columbian rebels but is a Para-cycling champion

Juan Jose Florian
Columbia para-cycling champion Juan Jose Florian. Photo/Getty Images

Juan Jose Florian, a Columbian Para-cycling champion is thankful to be alive. However, he lives with permanent scars of war as a result of choosing a clear conscience.

His childhood traces back to the Colombian rainforest where his mother and siblings lived. They grew papayas, oranges, and avocados to make a living. However, armed criminal gangs controlled the area at night.

He tells BBC that back in the day, there was a curfew at night, and those who broke it paid through death. Bodies were found on the woodland trails every day.

Roads and television were nonexistent then. However, Florian and his elder brother Miller were thrilled by the Colombian army battles with Farc.

For Florian and his older brother Miller, the Colombian army’s battles with the Farc (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and other guerrilla groups were more exciting than watching football games.

Farc guerillas operated since 1966 but disbanded in 2016 after negotiating a ceasefire.

Juan Jose Florina

Columbian para-cycling champion Juan Jose Florian. Photo/Flipr

Florian and Miller aspired to serve in the military. When Miller hit 23 years, he enlisted with the Columbian army. Farc learned about it and they immediately visited Florian’s and forced him to join them.

They argued that because they had delivered a son to the forces of reaction, they owed the revolution another. The Columbian Para-cycling champion never forgets how his mother wept and begged the Farc soldiers to listen to her.

Juan Jose Florian Joining Farc

Florian was just 16 years old when he was drawn into the battle. Farc recruited over 18,000 juveniles, 70% of whom were under the age of 15. They fought for five decades as the main rebel group.

And it was not easy being a part of them. Juvenile recruits were subjected to hours of psychological stress. But he refused to be brainwashed and always remembered the value he was taught by his mother.

Yet, Farc stood for the opposite of it all. Sadly, he witnessed the execution of deserters who betrayed the cause. All along, Floria plotted an escape but it only came a year later.

How Did Juan Jose Florian Escape Farc?

It was while executing his 27th Front battalion duty of launching an assault on a police station that he escaped. As the army’s helicopter conducted aerial surveillance following the attack, he hid behind a tree shade and ran off to a nearby house.

He knew he was not safe because there were many Farc sympathisers. And snitching on him always came with a huge bounty so he couldn’t take his chances. He got into a house where he found a couple and he ordered them to lie on the ground and stay silent lest he shoots them.

He changed into civilian clothes and took off unarmed. Florian approached a military roadblock and introduced himself as a guerilla breakaway fighter. He spoke of Miller and they confirmed that he had informed them about his younger brother being forced into Farc.

Military Protection

While in the capital city of Bogota, Florian was placed under military security due to fear of execution by Farc. He was barely 18 at the time and his mother fled the farm controlled by rebels.

In 2000, Florian enlisted in the Colombian military after reaching 18. He spent 12 years fighting drug gangs and fuel smugglers after completing his training.

Miller was also active in the military but his life changed one day during a shootout with Farc in El Dorado. He accidentally shot dead his friend and when he realized this, he went into shock.

Eventually, Miller began to exhibit symptoms of persistent paranoid schizophrenia. He took time off and went to his mother’s new home to recover. Florian decided to go visit him not knowing that Farc had traced his mother’s new home.

How Did Juan Jose Florian Lose His Arms and Legs?

On July 12, 2012, a parcel was delivered to the door and he walked over to check it. He sat by the door and stretched his hand and all he recalls from then is lying on the ground with his arms chopped off.

His right thigh had been ripped off, one of his eyes gouged out and burned extensively. He passed out and woke out of a coma 12 days later. It was the most excruciating season for him as he underwent numerous skin grafting episodes.

He battled depression, hallucination and suicide thoughts.

Juan Jose Florina

Juan Jose Florina. Photo/Getty Images

How Did Jose Juan Jose Florian Become a Paralympian?

He was transferred to the Private Jose Maria Hernandez Battalion, a Colombian Army unit dedicated to helping those who have been traumatized by the country’s decades-long civil war.

Florian began hydrotherapy as a part of his treatment. In the pool, he discovered that he could hold his breath longer than any of his colleagues. He began to time himself and to strive to achieve better results. They were all athletes in the Para-Swimming League of Bogota, a group of people who had been injured in traffic accidents or had degenerative conditions. As a result, he joined the military swimming squad and began competing.

Florian’s swimming skills improved, and he would cover longer distances. His aspirations continued to develop and he turned to swimming as a substitute for medication.

Jose Juan Jose Florina Winning Medals as a Paralympic Swimmer

In 2013, Florian earned his first American medal at a competition hosted by the University of Minnesota. While competing in the S5 butterfly division for three years, he broke records all throughout South America, the US, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia.

In 2015, he earned his last national championship medal. Four years after the incident, he was retired from the military and began a psychology degree at the University of California. Having been unable to compete in the military Para-swimming squad for some time, he opted to pursue another sporting goal of his own free will.

Then he flirted with the idea of riding a bike thereafter which came to be.

His national championships in road racing and time trials in para-cycling were completed in November of this year, at the age of 39 years old.

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