Growing up in the small Texas town of Bandera, Nick Perales never did anything halfway — in the classroom, and the sports he loved, including baseball and soccer. “He literally excelled at everything,” says his younger sister Larissa.
And he was always up for a new challenge.
“I remember our mom being like, ‘What’s Nick gonna be doing now?,” Larissa, 32, lembra. “Algo, você sabe, crazy and doing something above and beyond.”
Perales, agora 33, continued to push his limits: completing over a dozen grueling Spartan obstacle races, a marathon distance hike through the New Mexico desert, 24-hours straight of Cross-Fit’s toughest workouts, and co-founding with his sister a thriving nutrition and coaching company, The Transformation Project.
But these accomplishments of the last 12 years is a story of overcoming pain, and remarkable determination and grit, after the retired Marine Corps vet lost half his right leg and suffered other severe injuries when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded on Feb. 2, 2011 in Afghanistan, where Perales was a scout sniper.
“I took one step. And the next thing I knew, I was being thrown through the air, against the ground, muito difícil,” says Perales.
“I instantly realized, I just stepped on a bomb. I just saw this bright red flash, just kind of blow up beneath me,” ele continua. “And knowing that I was laying there, my legs basically blown off, one mangled, my hips fractured.”
“I just was ready to give up. I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep,” ele diz. “I told my guys, Eu era como, “Rapazes, tell my family I love them. I’m fine with this. I’m good.”
But his fellow Marines, and then teams of doctors and nurses, kept him alive. “I didn’t know I was going to have a second chance at life,” ele diz. “And I’m forever grateful for them.”
In a tribute to his those who saved him, friends he’s lost at war, and his desire to “embark on just a monumental journey” to raise awareness for wounded veterans, at first light Tuesday morning Perales begins a 205-mile, 11-day walk with a 50-pound rucksack on his back.
He plans on walking about 20 para 25 miles a day from his Houston home to arrive at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio — where he spent over two-and-a-half years undergoing multiple operations on his left leg to save the limb, extensive rehabilitation and, unable to walk, was in a wheelchair much of that time.
Perales’ goal is to finish by noon on Nov. 11, Dia dos veteranos, and he’ll be documenting the feat on Instagram @nick.transformationproject.
“It didn’t feel like I was challenging myself enough, and I didn’t feel like I was making as big as an impact that I wanted to, that my heart wanted to,” Perales says of the idea for this journey, called ‘The Weight of It: A Walk for Remembrance.’
Sponsored by C4 Energy, a drink brand, the journey is part of the company’s partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project. (You can donate to Wounded Warrior through this link.)
“I feel like I’m in debt, to not only our veterans, our first responders, but society in general, você sabe?” ele diz. “And I really just want to do whatever it is that I can, to give back to others.”
The walk is a team effort. Larissa Perales, and many Marine Corps colleagues will be joining Nick along the way, including close pal Sebastian Gallegos, 33, of San Antonio, who hopes to do the entire walk together.
“This is the hardest thing that I’ve ever known that he’s done,” says Gallegos, who lost his right arm during combat in Afghanistan in 2010 as a Marine Corps rifle team leader. The pair met in the hospital as they recovered together.
“But he’s a different level of elite,” says Gallegos, “so physically fit.”
It’s a tremendous turnaround for Perales from the months after the explosion. Haunted by memories of the day, unable to walk, and with numerous operations on his remaining leg, Perales numbed his emotions through pain killers, sleep meds, junk food and alcohol.
During this time he was bound to a wheelchair for almost a year, unable to use either leg.
“I didn’t feel confident,” ele diz. “I didn’t want to be around other people.”
By November, 2012, almost two years after his injuries, Perales had gained about 80 pounds on his 5-foot-6 frame and wanted to attend the Marine Corps Birthday ball on Nov. 10. He tried getting into his dress blues, adorned with shiny medals, but could not get the upper buttons of the neck collar to close.
“I remember looking at myself in this bathroom mirror, and I was just instantly drowned in a sense of disappointment,” Perales recalls.
“I literally just felt like I just let everyone down,” ele diz, “my teammates that risked their lives to save mine, the medevac team that risked their life to come save mine, the doctors, os cirurgiões, the PT’s, the OT’s, my family.”
“I felt I was just messing up this second chance,” ele continua. “And it’s that very moment, where I took every pill I had, I threw it in the trash. I took all the food out of my cabinets, my pantry, my freezer, and I threw it away. I needed to start over.”
Perales soon lost all the weight, adopted a healthy diet and quickly took on athletic challenges — even if he wasn’t in shape, like the first Spartan race he did with Gallegos almost a decade ago.
“He signed us up for this like, você sabe, 14 mile death race,” says Gallegos, “And it ended up taking 14 horas. We finished in the middle of the night. He never gave up.”
Perales also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with other combat veterans, and for the last two years took on the herculean challenge of doing 24 hours of the notoriously tough CrossFit Hero Workout, to raise money for Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, which helps first responders and veterans.
After leaving the house he shares with his dog, Benny, Perales spends his mornings in the gym doing body-building, with afternoons at Igneous, a local CrossFit.
For the 205-mile trek to San Antonio, he’ll be wearing a brace on his left leg he needs for support, and in his rucksack, an extra prosthetic, a spare brace and a 25-pound weighted vest.
Why carry the loaded rucksack? “I think about the burden and the load our nation’s heroes and their loved one carry around every day,” ele diz, “and it’s a reminder for me to make sure they are always at the top of my mind.”
While Perales has not trained for the walk outside of his daily fitness routine, he’s not worried about finishing.
“I kind of use my day-to-day as it already is, to be physically prepared,” ele diz, “and I think a lot of this is going to be mental training, being able to tap into that next level.”
For those who know Perales best, there is no doubt he’ll finish.
“If you could have seen our family’s faces when he told us about this, there was no surprise in our eyes,” says Larissa. “And he does it with the most goodness in his heart.”