Warrior Spirits – the Inspiring Stories behind #TeamDiego
When our military veterans come home from combat, many of them struggle with both physical and psychological injuries. Too many of them give up. Inspiration to live can come from different people … such as the amazing stories of the people behind Team Diego. The organization, named after 10 year old Diego Mercado, isan organization that supports “special needs children, wounded veterans and families with unmet needs challenges.”
Transformed through adversity
Captain Jason Mercado is Diego’s Dad, and is active Army as Commander at HHC, IMCOM. He told us that he used to be a shallow person, always judging people by how they looked and didn’t care much about anything. He was avid in sports, playing basketball and doing well at it.
When his wife became pregnant with their 2nd son, he bought a pair of “Air Jordan” shoes and hung them on his rear view mirror in anticipation of another son who would grow up to be sports minded. He never missed a sonogram, nor any doctor’s appointments over 9 months.
But tragedy struck the day his son was born.
“Nobody told me that he could be born like this.”
The nurses and midwife drew in their breath in dismay as the boy came out of the birth canal. Diego was born with “Amniotic Band Syndrome” a congenital condition where strands of tissue (amnions) wrap around the fetus. He was born with an amputated right leg, and the fingers on one hand did not develop correctly.
Jason was heartbroken and in shock. His world collapsed. He told us he cried for about a month. But since none of his commanding officers or even his Chaplain could help him, he had only one place to turn: God. So he had a one on One conversation with the Big Guy and poured out his heart.
It was then he learned that Diego was actually going to be all right. The doctors hold him that the boy had great organs and no brain damage. And so began a journey to destiny.
The Mercado Family -back row: Maurice, Jason, Jasmin, center: Maleah, Jason,Jr and Diego in front. Photos from Jason.
Challenges brought heart change
More challenges were thrown in the Mercados’ path. Mrs. Mercado was diagnosed with Stage II Spinal Cancer in 2011 during his deployment to Iraq. They had no income for a period of time and had to meet up with the Shriners to help. Their oldest son, Maurice, was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes in 2012 as his dad was returning to Kuwait from Iraq. The insurance company would only cover one kind of prosthesis for Diego.
Jason runs behind Diego
Now, Jason can look back on those days to see the Footprints beside him along the way. At the time, however, the valley was long and dark.
Sometimes people don’t realize that there is destiny in helping others. Jason and Diego were about to encounter a whole new life.
Tre Tremillo, US Marine
The Warrior Fitness Center in San Antonio, Texas
SSgt Felipe “Tre” Tremillo is a Marine, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan with 5th Marines, 1st Light Armored Recon, and 1st Recon. He came home with “more mental issues PTSD/ TBI. Physical meaning vertigo, severe migraines, fractured discs in back, knee surgery, fractured ankles from patrolling and carrying weight, jumping walls with all your equipment.” His struggles had serious consequences…
“I was not allowed to see my family, due to being a “threat” I was placed as an inpatient, suicidal, violent, and going down a dark path. My good friend committed suicide last year, I saw his son being handed a flag at Arlington Cemetery. I didn’t like that vets were choosing suicide, I saw what it did to his family. I didn’t want that for my wife and kids, I put them through enough hell. So I created warrior fitness center out of my garage.”
Cole’s son receives the flag at his father’s military funeral
Tre created Warrior Fitness Center as an outlet for veterans to re-engage their spirit of camaraderie. He met up with Marco, a student at his community college, who suffered an amputation from an IED in Afghanistan. Marco went through divorce and dark days of his own.
Together, they help each other face their demons, and helping their brothers in arms gives them purpose and focus using their gym as the stage.
“The workouts are very difficult, but so is life. Our coaching reminds the community and veterans how pain and suffering forces us all to isolate. No clapping, no cheering, it’s easy to think of yourself. But in the middle of the workout, I remind everyone how on the battlefield we never leave a man behind, in order to get through the workout we need to come together, and that’s when the clapping begins.”
The Warrior Fitness Center is at 12831 Coal Mine Rise in San Antonio, Texas.
The man in this video is Marine Veteran SSgt Jose Luis Sanchez. He is a veteran of the Battle of Ramadi in 2006 and Helmand Province in Afghanistan in 2011. Stepping on an IED while on patrol cost him his left leg, but it didn’t stop him. His involvement in physical fitness has been the way he copes with frustrations and anger…and it has made him famous in his own right.
He heard about Diego, and his first encounter with him occurred after the Boston Marathon. He looked forward to spending quality time with the boy, so he prodded the young man to work out with him. Seeing him motivated Jose, and “hyped him up” as Diego’s overcoming spirit provided fresh inspiration.
“Everything in life is earned, not given. So I told him, hey man, let’s work out. He didn’t seem too thrilled at the time but he did it. Then I noticed when I handed him a sledge hammer, his right hand wasn’t fully developed. It motivated me. He overcame. I didn’t even feel sorry for him!”
The Warriors of TeamDiego
Ten year old Diego wears an Army uniform as his way of being a soldier like his Dad. He may not be a member of the Armed Forces, but he is a warrior in spirit just like his friends.
“He sees it as his way of being a Soldier like me. The idea behind our theme “Every Warrior Matters” is that folks don’t have be a serviceman or woman in order to be a warrior in their own capacity. Tre, Marco and Jose are continuing to be warriors in the community and Diego looks up to all of them.”
Every warrior, from a special needs child to a Military veteran and anyone in between, must adapt and overcome the trials of life. And every single one of them matters. #TeamDiego, and the Warrior Fitness Center are places where support and help can be found.