Tragedy and Triumph: The Day Zach Caires’ Life Changed Forever


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By Bryan A. Sanchez/CONTRIBUTOR

The night was dark and cold. He unknowingly strode into danger. What he didn’t know would change his life in an instant.

Zachariah Caires, 21, better known as Zach, was a machining student at San Jose City College.

Tall in stature with classic looks, Caires enjoyed girls, beer pong and inventing things; but most of all, he loved riding his bike. He rode for fun, for transportation and even for work as a rickshaw driver downtown.

Riding home from an evening class on Oct. 15, 2012, Caires was crossing through an intersection when a negligent driver made a sudden left turn without stopping, slamming into him and dragging his bike for several feet lodged underneath the driver’s car.

Caires’ body was not dragged under, but he was violently thrown onto the hood which smashed his left shoulder through the windshield and his head onto the roof of the car. He was just one block away from home.

He regained consciousness while inside an MRI scanner at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center across the street from SJCC.

It was there that he was informed that he had lost the use of his body from his chest down and he is now permanently a paraplegic.

His 661 brand helmet was the only physical thing between himself and the vehicle that helped save his life.

“The story would have been so different without his helmet,” said his mother, Deborah Caires.

“When you have a son who is on a bicycle fifteen to twenty miles a day, this is what you fear,” Caires said. “I’m thankful he has his beautiful brain and hands because he has the mind of an inventor.”

Despite the devastating incident, Caires remains constantly smiling, laughing and steadfast in his sunny outlook on life. As luck would have it, his nerves are intact and he could recover the use of all his limbs in time.

Caires is learning to move independently with only the use of his arms. It is a long, sweaty struggle.

Though he has the use of his arms, he does not have the use of his stabilizing abdominal muscles which help support arm movement.

This lack of support makes a simple sitting-up bench press a hard-won undertaking. His physical therapists, Liz Gizycki and Chris Kilbourn, helped him through SCVMC’s spinal cord injury rehabilitation program.

“Zach always impressed us with his positive attitude and willingness to push himself,” said Kilbourn.

Caires said he believes his loss of limbs does not define him or limits his life.

He will be attending De Anza College for the Spring 2013 semester for the adapted sports program, participating in marathons with his mother, and he plans to take up hand-cycling.

Caires also aims to develop products in the world of target sports.

“I plan to be ten times as active as I was before,” Caires said. “This incident handicapped my legs, but it doesn’t handicap my life.”