NEW PORT RICHEY — From an early age, Charles Salvatore learned about helping others. Growing up in New York, his mother converted a large home into an Assisted Living Facility that housed 18 adults and children.
“It took a lot of hard work, money and sacrifice to keep it going, but I remember her telling me that the smiles and happiness it brought made it worth it,” Salvatore, 27, said.
After moving to Pasco County, one of Salvatore’s first jobs was at The Angelus, a facility in Hudson that has helped disabled adults for decades. Unfortunately, while riding his motorcycle in 2010, he struck a deer and suffered injuries so severe he was unable to continue working.
Salvatore later secured employment at Red Apple Adult Training Center as an instructor for adults with disabilities. In addition to his classroom instructing, Salvatore assists students getting on and off the transport van.
“Every day, I’m greeted with smiles,” Salvatore said.
On June 19, 2012, he was involved in another motorcycle accident when a raccoon ran under his front tire, causing him to lose control.
“The motorcycle went to the left and my body went to the right,” Salvatore said.
After crawling to a nearby house, an ambulance was called and transported him to Bayonet Point Medical Center. He suffered severe injuries to his head, plus broken bones in his back and right hand. His speech and memory were impaired and he continues to suffer short-term memory loss and knee, lower back and shoulder pain.
“I was really depressed,” Salvatore said. “My only escape was work and being with the students. I saw how they coped with lifelong disabilities and stopped feeling sorry for myself. They inspired me, and I was determined to do something for them.”
Salvatore solicited donations for the Red Apple’s annual golf tournament. At the Chasco Fiesta, he helped raise more than $500 selling hot dogs and parking cars. Along with other employees, he participated in a fundraising weight loss program, losing 46 pounds, but wanted to do something bigger. He heard about the upcoming Longleaf Triathlon on Oct. 13. Originally, was going to be part of a team, but later decided to participate in all three venues: swimming 1 1/2 miles, biking 30 and running 15. Part of his training included swimming laps at the New Port Richey Recreation and Aquatic Center.
“At first, I could only do one lap,” Salvatore said. “Now, I can swim 1 1/2 miles. Swimming is one exercise that doesn’t put a strain on my back. It also helps increase my endurance and helps me lose weight.”
The Embry Brothers, a local band, were his first corporate sponsor. Salvatore is confident he can complete the race and secure other sources of funding to reach his $10,000 goal. According to Justin Lawrence, who has been helping Salvatore training, his drive and determination have caused a positive change in the community.
“Charles’ training and exemplary attitude have inspired others to improve themselves for the better,” Lawrence said. “I am excited to help him train for his first triathlon.”
As Salvatore trains in the predawn hours, he’s greeted by well wishers. He nods and smiles back, knowing he’s following in his mother’s footsteps by helping others.
“Sometimes, I feel like I have a body of a 90-year-old man,” Salvatore said. “I live in pain every day, but I push through it. If you have the mindset to believe, you can achieve. Keep trying and don’t give up. If you put your mind and heart to it, nothing can stop you.”
Correspondent Cliff Gill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ReporterCliff.