Kristian Cedeño

“My family fueled me. My wife fueled me. And I was given a second chance. So why slow down?”

“I don’t know why I’m motivated,” said Freedom Award recipient Army Sgt. Kristian “Deno” Cedeño. The infantryman suffered multiple life-changing injuries, including the amputation of his right leg, when he took a direct hit from an improvised explosive device while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan in 2012. He racked up a laundry list of shattered and dislocated bones, along with vast muscle and artery damage.

To say he was on death’s door would understate the seriousness of his injuries. In any other war in our nation’s history, these wounds would likely have sealed a soldier’s fate.

The day he received his prosthetic device, he was up and walking around for eight straight hours. When it came to his recovery, Cedeño made a habit of pushing boundaries and breaking records.

Eight short months after his injuries, he became one of the nearly 400 military veterans to attend the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, co-hosted by DAV and the VA, in Snowmass Village, Colorado. For 27 years, this clinic has given injured and ill military veterans the chance to challenge their physical and mental strength.

And it was there that Cedeño, a one-time avid snowboarder, made unthinkable strides out on the slopes.

“Is it because someone tried to decommission me?” Cedeño pondered. “Because I owe it to my family and friends? Because I owe it to my prosthetist who got me back on my feet? Because I owe it to my friends who pieced me back together?”

The Queens, N.Y., native remains on active duty, stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., with his wife, Gwen.

“My family fueled me. My wife fueled me. And I was given a second chance. So why slow down?” Cedeño said. “I owe it to the men and women on my left and right who gave me strength when I didn’t have it. So how dare I put that to waste?”

It’s a sentiment that inspired his fellow participants and earned Cedeño the event’s top honor when he was named the DAV Freedom Award recipient. The same spirit runs deep among many others at the clinic.