Laurens Molina was born on October 2, 1978 in San Jose, Costa Rica. His parents weren't prepared for the shock of their son being born without any bones in his legs from the knees down. When he was a year and a half old, both of his lower extremities were amputated at the knees.
His First Prosthetics
He was fit with his first pair of prosthetic legs when he was two years old. They were very heavy which caused Laurens to use a great deal of energy to walk. The knees were similar to a door hinge which also caused him to walk very unnaturally. From the age of two years until he was fifteen years old, Laurens was fit with ten pairs of legs. His last pair of legs weighed about 20 pounds each and were held on with leather belts. The legs never fit securely on his limbs and his walking was very uneven.
When he began Junior High School, the other students made fun of the way he walked. Many laughed at him and pointed at him. During the next two years, it got worse until his self-esteem was so low that he entered into a severe depression. He decided to drop out of school because of the torture he would have to continue to endure. He also decided to stop using his prosthetic legs and resigned himself to using a wheelchair for mobility.
Athletics Gave Him His Confidence Back
At fifteen years old, he turned his interest to wheelchair sports and wheelchair basketball after attending a game. The wheelchair made it much easier for him to get around, and people stopped making fun and laughing at him. Now, people would only stare. His wheelchair basketball team was involved in many tournaments across Costa Rica. With his help, the team won the 1996 Wheelchair Basketball Championship of Costa Rica.
In 1997, his team played in the Central America Basketball Championship with Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Following the tournament, Laurens went into the city and saw a wheelchair marathon event. He entered the race using his regular wheelchair as he did not have a racing wheelchair like the other athletes. During the marathon, his wheelchair broke and he was unable to finish the race, but he knew that with a racing wheelchair, he could be competitive.
Over the next few months, he was able to raise enough money to purchase a racing wheelchair and he began to train. He met his coach Mauricio Quiros, who owns a local bicycle shop when he needed some repairs made to his wheelchair. Laurens competed in a half-marathon in San Jose, Costa Rica, where he finished in second place using a friends racing wheelchair. This was very encouraging to both Laurens and his coach as he showed great talent for the sport.
Laurens' boss at the local hardware store loaned him the money he needed to purchase his own racing wheelchair in 1998. He traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to be fit with the special racing wheelchair. In November of that same year, he competed in the wheelchair division of the 23 mile long, New York Marathon where he finished in eighth place. It was a surprise to him because the level of competition was very high. In 1999, he competed in the Los Angeles Marathon and finished in twelfth place. Later that same year, he traveled to Madrid and competed in the Spain Marathon. With his best performance yet, he finished in first place out of a field of sixty.
The next stop was the Pan Am Games in Mexico City. This was his most important competition for him as it was the qualifying meet for the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games. He entered the 100 and 200-meter races and finished in first place in the 100 and second place in the 200. This qualified him to be able to compete in the 2000 Sydney Paralympic Games but more importantly; he would be the first and only person from Costa Rica to compete in the games.
To begin the new millennium, he finished in twenty-third place in the Los Angeles Marathon but scored a third place win in the Spain Marathon. His training for the 100 and 200-meter sprints affected his outcome in the marathon events but it was well worth the trade- off. In October, he competed in the 2000 Paralympic Games, a memory he will have forever. The largest Paralympics to date featured a field of 4,000 athletes from 125 different countries. Though he didn't medal in either the 100m or 200m events, the experience he gained was invaluable.
Hanger Clinic Provides Second Chance with Prosthetics Legs
Following the Paralympic Games, he again traveled to the United States to be fit with prosthetic legs for the first time in eight years. Technology had advanced since the time he wore prostheses when he was 15 years old. Through fundraiser events and generous donations, he was able to be fit with the most state-of-the-art prostheses available. Called the Hanger ComfortFlex™ Socket System, this patented design utilizes lightweight carbon fiber and is anatomically contoured to match his limbs exactly. Instead of the cumbersome 20 pound legs he wore as a child, these new legs weigh in at 7.5 pounds, providing him the ability to wear the legs in comfort and walk with a "normal" gait. Additionally, he was able to run for the first time in his life with the aid of the Springlite Sprinter feet and the USMC Black Max hydraulic knee units.
After realizing his goal of walking, he has retired his wheelchair and plans to donate it to a young paralyzed girl in Costa Rica. He will, however, continue to compete in wheelchair racing events but can now also focus on running in his new prosthetic legs.