Jose Manuel "Pepe" Candon dreamed of becoming a Marine since he was a child growing up in Spain.
“I have always wanted to defend my country and serve others,” he said. “I joined the Spanish Armed Forces in 1995 as a soldier and advanced to the rank of lieutenant. I was linked to the combat sappers, which are engineers.”
Pepe specialized as an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician and diffused and disposed of bombs during international and humanitarian missions. But on February 24, 2011, all of that changed.
“We were practicing disposing of bombs five days before a UN mission,” remembers Pepe. “That fateful day has been etched in my skin and in my mind forever. I lost five comrades and brothers as well as my eyes.”
Pepe lost his right eye and 85 percent of the vision in his left eye. He spent over 200 days in the hospital and had to undergo 35 operations. His disability forced him to leave the Spanish armed forces and begin the difficult challenge of starting a brand-new life.
“I decided to face life from another point of view,” he said. “In order to better meet the challenges of daily life, I proposed to my guide and friend that we face the most difficult sports test in the world and attempt an XTERRA.”
In 2016, Pepe and his guide became the first visually impaired athlete and guide team to compete in the 2016 XTERRA European Championship. They swam together with a tether connecting their legs, rode the mountain bike course in tandem, and ran together, connected by a small rope.
This week, Pepe and his new guide Jonathan Macias are coming to Maui to compete in the XTERRA World Championship. This is their first year working together and they met because they live three blocks from each other in the same town in Spain.
"I asked Jonathan, 'Do you like adventure?' And then I asked, 'Are you crazy?'" Pepe said.
When asked why he agreed to take on the responsibility of leading a blind man over the course at the XTERRA World Championship - which is arguably one of the toughest courses in the world - Jonathan replied, "We are friends."
Yet, he admits that while being a guide is incredibly rewarding, it's also an intense experience.
"I call out every rock, every stick, and every turn," said Jonathan. "But I don't mind. It is an epic adventure."
“My guide is a special person because he is my eyes, my friend, and part of the Tritandem Team. We are so excited to go back to Maui because the XTERRA World Championship is the most amazing race in the world.”
Pepe hopes that by pushing himself to his limits that he can inspire others to embrace the challenges in their own lives.
“We want to show others with disabilities that they don’t have to give up their dreams,” said Pepe. “By competing in XTERRA, I want to demonstrate that if your mind can do it, the body will follow. What we discovered was that XTERRA wasn’t just a goal but a way of life and a family to which we belong to and that loves us back.”