26-year-old Daniel Velazquez cannot just say hello.
"Let me get one, sister! Don't be like that, you were gonna drive right past me," Velazquez said in a loud voice as he insisted on fist bumps from a YMCA member in a wheelchair.
When he got the fist bump, "Bam! Alicia's in the house!" Velazquez said near the top of his lungs.
Since January, Velazquez has been greeting members in this fashion three times a week.
His big personality lights up every shadow, and he embraces moments to lift someone’s spirits. He willingly dives into a profound conversation about faith, throws back a joke when you give him a hard time, and determinedly gets to know everyone around him. Daniel makes it his goal every day to be a smiling face when members arrive for their workouts and finds something unique about each individual to compliment them on in efforts to brighten their day.
Velazquez has touched so many lives, one woman responded by writing a letter to the YMCA, in which she called him hope for "those that come in carrying heavy baggage and overwhelming circumstances."
"That warms me," Velazquez responded when we asked him what he thought about the compliments. "I'm here, doing a lot more than I think."
To get a better idea why so many people think Velazquez is an inspiration, we have to go back to 2012.
On November 16, 2012, Daniel had just learned he was promoted at work and afterward was in a motorcycle accident that would drastically change his life forever. Velazquez was hospitalized and unconscious for 11 months, three of them in a vegetative state. That meant he couldn't feed himself, breathe on his own or even dream. But nearly a year later on September 9th, 2013, he woke up. He didn't remember a thing.
Life before this motorcycle accident was pretty carefree and often careless with the expectation of invincibility despite Daniel frequently playing with fire. Daniel’s past consists of a DUI, trespassing, battery on a law enforcement officer, and violation of his probation. If you know him now, this might be surprising to learn. Daniel’s an illustration of how important it is to let your past guide you, not define you.
He is still in recovery to this day, progressing little by little. Some days are better than others, and he often finds himself struggling to be patient with the process. With the help of his family, friends, and team of doctors, Daniel has made tremendous physical and mental strides both on land and in the pool. Reaching goals he was warned he may never reach, Daniel continues to push to grow stronger and heal faster every time he goes to the gym.
As a nine-time convicted felon turned committed believer, Daniel has a mission in life to heal, help others heal, and spread good as far as he can reach. Through his experiences – before and after the wreck – he savors each moment he has to give thanks and appreciation for those around him.