Yuma man overcomes disability to race off-road

By Cheng Sio

Yuma Sun

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 12 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Brothers Alonzo and Juan Dominguez sit on an ATV outside Yuma, Ariz. on Dec. 31, 2010. Both brothers recently joined Nuttbar Racing for the SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race, helping lead the team to a first-place finish. Juan Dominguez, had his eye removed at age 11, after an accident when he was a child.

Yuma Sun, Jared Dort, Associated Press

YUMA, Ariz. — The adrenaline was pumping. He was emotional, yet zoned in on the task at hand.

Juan Dominguez was at the starting line, moments away from achieving his dream of riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) in the SCORE Baja 1000 off-road race.

But there was just one tiny thing the then 19-year-old Yuman resident forgot to mention to team captain Brad McLean before the start of the race.

Dominguez didn't tell McLean he could see only out of one eye.

It was Jan. 30, 1998 — the day of Vicente Dominguez's, Juan's father, birthday. Juan, then 7 years old, was playing kickball in the front yard with other family members.

During the game, an ice cream van and its melody of tunes passed by.

When the van stopped to serve its customers, Juan and a cousin thought it was cool to hop on the back of the vehicle. But when the ice cream vendor finished, only the cousin jumped off the van.

Juan said he held on to the van's handlebars to avoid falling off. It turned out to be a bad idea.

"As I was on the back of the ice cream truck, two (teenagers) were shooting some BB guns out there in my neighborhood," Juan said. "One of the kids decided to shoot the ice cream truck. He ended up shooting me in my right eye."

When Juan's father heard what had happened, he rushed to his son's aid.

"When he came back, my dad was like all panicky," said Alonzo Dominguez, Juan's older brother. "He's like, 'Get in the car, get in the car.' I saw my brother with a towel all red full of blood."

X-rays revealed the BB entered Juan's head.

"The BB went all the way almost to the brain," said Marina Dominguez, Juan's mother. "It was removed, (doctors) said, with a magnet."

The only thing Juan said he remembered about the disastrous day was that he didn't stop crying for a couple of hours.

For about four years afterward, Juan used a prosthetic over his crippled right eye until the age of 11, when it was removed after he had an eye implant.

"It feels like nothing is there. It's like amazing. When I had my eye, I used to have pain all the time."

Juan gradually began living a normal life. Attending Cibola High, he played varsity baseball his senior year and he became more social and made friends. But since many can't tell he has a prosthetic eye, Juan said he usually doesn't tell his friends about it until he has confidence in them. And if his friends don't believe him, all he has to do is take off his prescription glasses and tap the prosthetic, which makes a knocking sound.

"They freak out," Juan said.

Alonzo attended the Baja 500 in 2006. He liked it so much, he persuaded his brother to attend the Baja 1000 with him. Like his older sibling, Juan fell in love with the sport, particularly the ATV division.

Little did they know those races would change their lives as two years later, they embarked on a racing career.

The brothers started Pirrunas Racing team and in their first race, the San Luis 250 at San Luis Rio Colorado, they finished seventh out of 25 entries.

Alonzo, however, admitted he had doubts whether his younger brother could succeed racing with just one eye. But he said he also remembered how well his younger brother rode ATVs in the sand dunes with limited vision.

"I knew it was going to affect me but I looked at it like, 'If they can do it, why can't I?'" Juan said. "I have a disability and I got to live with that. I make my only eye work as if I had two eyes."

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