AUSTIN - 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.
Velazquez has the same attitude toward the members who leave the Town Lake branch facility as well.
"Peace out. You came to the house. The casa, if you don't speak English," Velazquez joked.
Since January, Velazquez has been greeting members in this fashion three times a week.
Carrie Long is an activity leader at the YMCA.
"Yeah it makes my day to see him up there," Long said.
"He lifts you up," said Jude Hickey, the Associate Executive Director at the YMCA.
Hickey said it was a no-brainer to hire Velasquez, who was a YMCA member first.
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."
On Tuesday, Hickey says Velazquez made a difference for another woman.
"I noticed she was sitting on the couch over there in the lobby and staring at him, seemed to be awestruck," said Hickey. "Finally she gets up, she comes walking over to him and she said, I started out this day feeling very sad and lonely. Today is my birthday and she said you are the best birthday gift I could have gotten, and she starts crying."
Hickey went on to explain that Velazquez is "shifting the culture" within the YMCA, which is an accessible facility.
"This is a really powerful culture here, it was a really great fit for him," she explained. "A really strong open community here and he shifted it even further. He's moving that needle even farther. And one of the things that I love is, you know the first bump, right? And so little kids are running through the front door like this to do their fist bump, people are fist bumping one another throughout the facility. The other thing that I love is he calls everybody brother and sister, now everybody is calling each other brother and sister. And what a way to live in this world to live as truly brothers and sisters."
"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 November 2012.
A then 21-year-old Velazquez was on a motorcycle going 60 miles an hour when an SUV cut him off, throwing Velazquez headfirst into the back of a car.
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.
"I did not remember the date of the accident, any moment in between, the discharge from the hospital," Velazquez said. "I'm trying to tell you 11 months ... gone."
Though the accident was traumatic, nothing, Velazquez said, will get in the way of him walking without a cane again, despite what doctors say.
He practices all the time and he can go as high as 80 steps. So if you wonder why he is so happy all the time, he will tell you.
"I can breathe on my own," Velazquez said with passion. "I, excuse my language, wipe myself. I don't need diapers. I don't need you to touch me, I'm able to bathe myself. I'm able to scrub, lather, rinse, repeat, brush my teeth. I'm able to do that. I'm able to make myself breakfast. And I'm able to get up and go."
And perhaps one day he'll be able to leave his wheelchair behind for good.
Medicare doesn't pay for all of Velazquez's physical therapy, so if you would like to help, he has a GoFundMe account set up. Click here for more information.
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