(NEW YORK) — Chris Melendez may have lost a leg while serving in Iraq, but the native New Yorker is not going to let the injury cut short his dream of becoming a wrestler.
Inspired by his father, a Vietnam veteran, Melendez joined the military when he was 17 years old. In 2006, when Melendez was only 23 days away from returning home after his deployment, he lost a leg in a roadside bomb at the age of 19.
“When I was able to open my eyes after the explosion, I looked across the battlefield to see what I thought was a fellow-soldier in need of help,” Melendez told ABC News. “I quickly realized it was my leg.”
Melendez was treated at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. The bomb damage led to his jaw being rebuilt, the severed tendons in his left arm getting replaced and, ultimately, his left leg being amputated above the knee.
Despite the injuries, Melendez made a quick recovery. With a prosthetic leg, he was walking again within 40 days.
Melendez, a Purple Heart recipient, had watched wrestling since he was little with his grandmother, who was a huge fan. He had always wanted to become a wrestler, and the injury didn’t deter him.
After he able to walk again, Melendez began training to become a professional wrestler in 2012.
His talent was spotted by TNA Impact Wrestling, which offered him a multi-year contract. He made his debut at Manhattan Center in New York on Aug 5.
“I am very excited because there have been so many people who have not seen me perform, who are questioning my ability, whether I can go to the distance,” Melendez said. “Once I step in there, I will show the whole world what I’m capable of.”
Melendez had a few words of encouragement for other injured veterans: “Regardless of what happens, you can still succeed at whatever you apply yourself to.”
“I like to credit the fact, a lot, that I’m a New Yorker,” Melendez said of his recovery. “I don’t waste any time, and I have to hurry up.”
Although appreciative of his prosthetic leg, Melendez actually thinks that he wrestles better without it.
“I prefer to work with it off because my agility’s better, I move a little faster, I’m able to do certain things that I can’t do with it on,” he said. “It’s actually a hindrance to have it on.”
“I like that ability to captivate the audience and tell a story, not with words, but with our bodies,” Melendez said.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Dora Scheidell, KSTU
Amberlee Lovell, FamilyShare
Jackie Wattles, CNN