Karl Yares, a non-traditional freshman and adaptive sport athlete, has an unparalleled passion for competitive athletics that has only gotten more intense since he went through a life-altering accident while working as a food caterer in California three years ago.
Yares is not like most other athletes in the sense that he has gotten more into competitions after going through a near-fatal accident. While in California, Yares was working as a food caterer alongside firefighters through the National Park Service.
“We were on standby waiting for a fire and I got into a car accident,” Yares said. “Our truck went off the road and rolled down an embankment. Honestly, I was just lucky to escape with my life.”
The next day, Yares woke up with a large bar running through the bone in his left leg when the doctors were trying to save it and hopefully give him any chance to ever walk again. The bar was anchored to a bone in his leg at three distinct locations. Yares had to use an external fixator to hold his broken bones in a proper position after the accident.
“The word [the doctors] used was ‘shredded,’” Yares added. “All the arteries, veins and connective tissue had been shredded in the act of the accident.”
Yares’ life before the incident was that of a traditional college student. The Tucson native went to the University of Arizona to study anthropology in 2005. Soon after, he worked as a field archaeologist for many years before getting into the catering industry.
“I just loved life on the road and traveling. We work really hard for five months out of the year and do what you want for the rest of the year. That was really attractive to me,” Yares said.
Ever since the accident, Yares has taken an approach to life most people would not have done — he has immersed himself into a life of athletics despite losing the lower part of his left leg. He gives a new meaning to adaptive athletics and wants everyone to know that using the word “adaptive” before athletics doesn’t make a sport any less meaningful.
“People should know that we have world-class adaptive athletes who are always honing their skills, trying to get better and faster,” Yares said. “It’s just like any other elite athlete trying to get better at their sport. My situation has enlightened me. I can tell you I’m more active as an amputee compared to what I was when I had two whole legs.”
This year, like last year, Yares will take on the annual El Tour de Tucson on Nov. 23. Yares will spice things up and go for the 50-mile event this year after doing the 25-mile event last November.
“I’ve been on my hand cycle putting in some miles, training with the team. I’ve been trying to keep up with the guys who are like really, really intense,” Yares said. “They practice on their hand cycles and hit some trails every day.”
In addition, Yares is an adaptive basketball and hand-cycling athlete at the UA. He practices with his teams every day, including both morning and afternoon practices. Last season, he helped the UA men’s wheelchair basketball team get to the Final Four of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.
“We had our first couple of exhibition [basketball] games this past weekend and they went well,” Yares said. “I’m pretty excited about the upcoming season. The real beginning of the season is next weekend in Dallas, Texas.”
On top of all this, Yares is currently attending the UA as a journalism major after graduating with an anthropology degree back in 2010.
“I’d like to get into broadcasting and radio work — perhaps in sports,” Yares said.
Sports have always been an integral part of Yares’ life, even before the accident in California. He used to play soccer, intramural basketball and even played against former NFL star Rob Gronkowski in a friendly game of basketball at the Student Recreation Center.
“I’ve always loved sports. There’s just something fun about bringing a group together for one goal, almost like a band,” Yares said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be in a unit, working for a goal and making each other better.”
Follow Amit Syal on Twitter