Returning home from the hospital was like starting from zero. Gradually he recovered his strength and began walking again.
Then one day he tried out a bicycle. He fell off a few times, prompting his mother to beg neighbors to help keep him from riding for fear he could kill himself. But Lopez kept on pedaling and learned to steer with the points of his elbows.
By the age of 18 he was already taking part in street races in Havana.
"Since I was little I have always liked sports. I played soccer, I rode the bicycle and dreamed of the Olympic Games. That helped me greatly, physically and psychologically," Lopez said.
Since last summer, Lopez has been part of Cuba's disabled cycling team and from Monday to Friday lives in a room near a decaying state-run cycling track just outside the capital, where he practices daily.
On weekends he earns a little extra money repairing bikes at the modest home he shares with his 66-year-old mother and 42-year-old brother Abel. On the door to his room hangs a sign reading "Danger: Risk of electrocution," a friend's sardonic gift that delights Lopez to this day.
As he spoke, Lopez moved what is left of his arms with tremendous dexterity as he showed off the donated red track bicycle he keeps in his room, and the black touring bike in the patio, which has an electronic gearshift that he's still getting used to.
As Lopez talked emotionally about how cycling helped him rediscover his will to live, his sudden eagerness to cut the interview short spoke more than his words. Lopez had a date, he confessed.
"Finding a girlfriend is not easy, but a man doesn't have to be handsome on the outside but rather within," he said. "I can die now. I know what it is to love."
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.
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