Aurora theater shooting survivor training for Paralympics

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — Wednesday marks a grim day in Colorado’s history and a decade since tragedy struck.

On July 20, 2012, dozens of people packed into an Aurora movie theater for a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” only to be met with rapid gunfire. A lone gunman carried out a mass shooting that killed 12 people and hurt 70 on a day that will forever be remembered in the Centennial State.

It’s been 10 years since first responders rushed inside, since innocent moviegoers lost their lives and since survivors experienced physical and emotional trauma.

Adan Avila Arredondo is a survivor. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and just 19 years old at the time of the shooting. The two entered the theater excited and eager, but it ended with shrapnel wounding her and a bullet shattering Arredondo’s leg. But as he describes it, that’s when his journey began.

“Turning a tragedy into something I can overcome,” Arredondo explained. “Going back and thinking about it, it’s amazing that I survived. To me, it was one of the worst days of my life, if not the worst day of my life.”

Since theater shooting, ‘so many steps forward’

Arredondo said he remembers everything happening fast, and 10 years later, the details are somewhat of a blur. He was shot in the leg, and because of the extent of the injury, doctors had to amputate his leg below the knee. At 19 years old, Arredondo became an amputee and was forced to adjust to a new life.

“It was very difficult,” Arredondo shared. “I would stare at the mirror and not see the same person anymore. I kept looking at the past like, I used to be able to do this, this and this — but now I can’t.”

Adan Avila Arredondo powerlifting
Adan Avila Arredondo was wounded in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. After a decade of healing, he’s got his eyes set on the Paralympics. (KDVR)

But now, 10 years later, he can do anything he sets his mind to and has come a long way in his healing process. Although it’s been a decade since the tragedy, he says it’s something he’s put in the past.

“It doesn’t mean much to me anymore. I’ve taken so many steps forward,” Arredondo said. “It’s such a small portion of my life that I don’t think about it. Not because I’m avoiding it or anything like that. It’s just there’s so much more life around me.”

Choosing not to wallow but instead win each day. The now 30-year-old uses a prosthetic leg to walk, married his high school sweetheart, welcomed two beautiful children into the world, earned his degree, traveled to Asia, and is now powerlifting.

After a decade of healing, eyes on the Paralympics

For the past year, Arredondo has been training three times a week at Junkyard Training, Education and Recovery Center in Centennial with his trainer Jesse.

“I was surprised at how much more I had to eat. I’m continuously eating protein, so I enjoy that part,” Arredondo laughed.

He’s eating more, but he’s certainly lifting more too and testing his limits and strength. In March, Arredondo surpassed the bench-press requirement and officially became a member of the USA Para Powerlifting Team and has a goal to become a paralympic athlete. He hopes to compete in the 2028 games.

Arredondo just returned last week from his first international competition in St. Louis and placed fifth. He’s now getting ready for a big competition next year in Dubai, which is going to cost thousands, all while continuing to train for the Paralympics. Supportive friends and coworkers, who believe in his dream, created a GoFundMe to help pay for the expenses of competition if you’d like to donate.

With big goals ahead of him, Arredondo never forgets where he came from. He’s a product of Aurora Public Schools himself and is currently a teacher in the district.

“The community is close to my heart. I’m originally from Mexico. I want to show all the young children — Latinos, really all kinds — that you can do it, you really can,” Arredondo shared.

The father and powerlifter is not letting the tragedy or his injury define him. As a proud Latino athlete, he’s crediting the Colorado community and his family for carrying him through the pain 10 years ago.

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