Monday, August 22, 2016

Alfred: Saxon football team to honor Julio Fuentes

A decade after a paralyzing injury during the 2006 season opener, former Alfred University football player Julio Fuentes will be recognized prior to the first game of the Saxons' 2016 campaign. Fuentes will be on hand for Alfred's Sept. 3 noon contest against visiting Husson University at Yunevich Stadium. AU head coach Bob Rankl said Fuentes will be honored prior to kickoff and the team will hold a fundraiser the day of the game. Proceeds will be donated to Rehabilitation Today, a facility in Fuentes' native Olean, NY, where he has been undergoing regular physical therapy treatments the last three years. Fuentes is the older brother of current AU football star Maleke Fuentes, a junior running back-wide receiver. Maleke Fuentes, in his third season as a starter for the Saxons, earned Empire 8 Conference Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman in 2012. Julio Fuentes, like his younger brother, established himself as a dual threat out of the backfield his freshman year in 2005. That season, as the backup tailback, he ran for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns and caught 22 passes for 276 yards and two more scores. On special teams, he averaged 21.1 yards on nine kickoff returns. He returned for his sophomore season entrenched in the Saxons two-deep at tailback, with a prominent role in the return game. But in the season opener, at home against Thiel College, Fuentes made a play that would change his life. Blocking on a kick return, he collided with a Thiel defender and collapsed to the Merrill Field turf with what was later determined to be a serious spinal cord injury. Fuentes says doctors' initial prognosis was that he would be paralyzed from the neck down, with no chance of ever walking again. After a month spent at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, in which he was placed in an induced coma, Fuentes spent six months at the Shepherd Center, a catastrophic care hospital for traumatic brain and spinal injuries in Atlanta. He returned to the family home in Olean and began undergoing inpatient and outpatient physical therapy. About three years ago Fuentes began receiving treatment alternately at home and at Rehabilitation Today, which has facilities in Olean, Cuba, Arcade, and Bradford, PA. Now 29 and living in Allegany, NY, he goes to Rehabilitation Today's Olean facility for treatment five times a week. Contrary to what doctors told him initially, he has regained movement in his arms and upper body and, to a lesser extent, his legs and lower body. Fuentes' goal, now and for the last 10 years, is to walk again. He is certain that he's on his way to making that happen. His treatment at Rehabilitation Today includes physical therapy and occupational therapy. "With OT, I'm working on my upper body, to help me control my legs. With the PT, I'm working on my gait, trying to get stronger as far as walking goes."While he spends most of his time in a wheelchair, Fuentes said he's made incredible progress. "In therapy, I can walk unassisted with a walker. I can move my arms and my legs while sitting down, I can stand on my own," he said "Over the last four or five months, I've really made tremendous improvements. I hadn't sweated in 10 years, and now I'm starting to work up a sweat." Fuentes credits his therapists for pushing him to work hard in his recovery. "They've always shared my optimism," he says. When asked if doctors have offered a revised prognosis for his continued recovery, he said he's never asked for or received one. "I haven't consulted doctors. I feel I can do what I put my mind to," he said. "I don't want a judgment where someone puts limits on me. I've proven them wrong." Fuentes has another goal: going back to school and earning his degree. A criminal justice major during his time at AU, Fuentes hopes to return to college soon, with aspirations of earning a degree in counseling. "I definitely want to go back to school," said Fuentes, who has taken some on-line course from Jamestown Community College. "I've done well. I want to go back; I will go back."I want to get a counseling degree and help people in my position. I've been through a lot. People who are hurt like I was are initially down and out and don't know what to do. I was in that position and needed someone to help me." Fuentes looks forward to returning to campus for the Saxons season opener Sept. 3. He enjoys watching his brother play and occasionally, he'll meet up with some of his old teammates at Saxon home games. "I've been to almost all (Maleke's) home games and a handful of road games," he said. "I'm really looking forward to the being there."