How Edwin Munoz plans to ride across the country using a hand cycle

When he jumped into a lake in 2018 and broke his neck, Edwin Munoz says he was in the best shape of his life. After 6 years with a spinal cord injury, he’s fitter than ever and ready to cycle across the country on a journey motivated by giving back to the spinal cord injury survivor community.

In 2018, Edwin Munoz dove into a lake he’d swum in dozens of times before. He was in the best shape of his life, he says, and he woke up two days later with a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed and two million dollars in debt. “The city actually opened up the dam to let water out because we were expecting a lot of rain that week,” he said, and explained that this left just four feet of water where there had always been twenty. “I hit my head on a rock and knew instantly that I was paralyzed.” He spent four minutes conscious but unable to help himself before his friend rescued him.

In the hours after his accident, Edwin’s family had to face the possibility of losing him. Edwin says the hospital called his family in the middle of the night.  “They're like, hey, somebody needs to make a decision on what's going to happen if this guy passes,” they told Edwin’s parents. “We don't know if we're going to be able to save him.”

But the doctors did save Edwin and gave him a new lease on life that he’s made the most of every day since. While he’s now an accomplished ultra-endurance athlete and Wings for Life Ambassador, Edwin remembers how hard those first few months were. “My start to my paralysis journey was one that had very little hope,” he says.  In his home in Central Texas, he wasn't able to access rehab facilities that had worked with spinal cord injuries before, and at the time of his injury his insurance had just lapsed. He didn’t have anyone to look up to and had never known another wheelchair user. Faced with what doctors told him was a 3% chance of being able to feed himself again, and potential life changing debt, Edwin began a long journey of building the environment he needed to thrive with his injury rather than letting it slow him down.

Today, Edwin wants to be an example of living a full life post injury for people in the position he was in when doctors first told him he was unlikely to regain the use of his legs or arms. Through his work with Wings for Life and his own Fearless Ventures Foundation, Edwin helps to inspire others to continue chasing their dreams as he has. He also helps to give them tools they need. Within six months of his injury, Edwin had raised enough money to build a rehab center and was humbled by the generosity of his community in helping him pay his medical bills. Inspired by this, and while he was still recovering from his injury himself, he began his journey of giving back to his community.

It was during his rehab that Edwin found his new passion for handcycling as a way of moving his body and inspiring his community. After his injury, he was able to regain most of his arm movement and he “became obsessed with just walking and working out,” he says. Edwin has a master’s degree and a background in exercise physiology, and he knew about the importance of regaining as much mobility as he could during his first year post injury. As he went to different facilities, he began to meet more adaptive athletes “And that's when I found out what hand cycling was,” he says. “Hey,” he thought to himself, "I also want to get into recreation while I'm here.”

These days, hand cycling is more than just recreation for Edwin.  He celebrates the anniversary of his injury every year by taking on a challenge on his bike, showing himself and the world that he can still do incredible things. “While we wait for the cure,” he says, “there's still time to live your life and do everything you want to do.”

On the fourth anniversary of his injury, what Edwin wanted to do was to ride a handcycle to the place where he got hurt. Without much training, or forethought, Edwin told his mother he wanted to ride to the lake, “which was like 120 miles,” he says. “My Mom was like ‘You're crazy!’” Edwin recalls, but she never told him he couldn’t do the ride. “She followed me in her car, and I rode my bike, or I rode the hand cycle, three days and over 130 miles.”

The ride to the lake was Edwin’s first major endurance event; he got so dehydrated that his kidneys had problems for weeks afterwards. Since then, he’s learned a lot, and last year he and his friends rode 1,000 uphill miles from Dallas to Denver. This year, starting in July, he’s planning to ride from coast to coast with other adaptive athletes and supporters joining along the way. He bought an old school bus, installed an adaptive restroom and shower, and planned a route from Portland Oregon, to Washington, DC. “People talk about how beautiful Oregon is,” he says. “I'm tired of seeing it on the computer. And on my phone. I'm going to go see it with my own eyes.” Edwin says that his major motivation as he grinds out more than 3,500 miles over 60 days on the road is the thought of giving back, and bringing the support he has received to others.

Edwin says that he’s achieved these incredible things through a positive mindset, and not taking “no” for an answer.  He says that other spinal cord injury survivors can do the same if they’re willing to work at their goals. “Your goals are still in reach,” Edwin says. “You can still live your life. You just got to find a new way to do it.”

Support Wings for Life by registering to participate in the 2024 Wings for Life World Run on May 5th. All entry fees go directly to fund scientific research projects to help find a cure for spinal cord injuries. Sign up here now.