JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Every step was agony.
With the brutal pain of blisters cutting through his feet, amplified by the weight of combat gear and 55-pound rucksack he donned, Tech. Sgt. David Perez recalled feeling almost too engulfed in his own pain and mental struggle to keep moving forward through the last 16 miles of the 2009 Bataan Death March.
"I was tired, hot and gasping for air," said Perez, who is a Vehicle Management and Analysis craftsman at Fort Meade, Md. "Then, I looked over to my right to see a young man who appeared to be my age being encouraged to keep moving on by his family.
"I then noticed he had two prosthetic legs and was wearing Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran patches. He lost his legs in combat to an Improvised Explosive Device. When I saw that, I said to myself 'What do I have to complain about? Why am I even thinking about anything but finishing my race?' That's when the answer dawned on me. The reason that I'm out here is to pay tribute to these individuals, young or old, past or present."
From that point forward Perez decided to dedicate all his races and events to past, fallen and wounded warriors and to encourage others to face fear every day of their lives.
"I consistently try to become a better version of myself each day of my life, face my fears and lead by example so others can do the same," said Perez.
He attributes his self-motivated mindset for paving his way to representing the U.S. National Team at the 2012 Long Course Duathlon World Championships, set to take place September 2, 2012, in Zofingen, Switzerland. The competition consists of a 10-kilometer run/ 150-kilometer bike ride/ 30-kilometer run.
Also a mixed martial arts fighter, Perez happened upon this opportunity of a lifetime following his last fight in April when he decided to try something he had never done before.
"I trained hard for the last fight I had," said the 30-year-old Los Angeles, Calif. native who fights under the name David 'De Fierro' Perez. "It was a tough fight with a ready opponent. I took time off to mentally recoup from fighting. I still wanted to remain active, so I signed up for the Black Water duathlon."
The 10-kilometer run/70-kilometer bike ride/10-kilometer run took place in Cambridge, Md., June 3.
"I didn't know signing up for the duathlon event would blaze a trail for me to become an official USA World Team member," said Perez.
Upon finishing the event, Perez was not concerned about his completion time or any derived benefits, but left the event satisfied, he said.
One week later, the Olympic Training Center, Team USA National Events Coordinator, Rachel Leif, informed Perez that out of hundreds of the most elite athletes in the country, he qualified to represent the U.S. in the Duathlon World Championship.
Was it an act of fate which led this hard-hitting athlete to the World Championship?
"It is fate in a sense that it was meant to be but not uncontrolled fate," said Perez. "My fate leads down a road that I paved for myself. I decided to enter that race and make personal choices daily to stay in great shape."
Perez joined the Air Force on Valentine's Day, 2001, and is slated to test for the rank of Master Sergeant soon. He said he dedicates the same effort into his role as an NCO as he does his athletic training and competitions
"David's compassion is evident when he is working with others and teaching them straight from his own personal experiences and trained knowledge," said Perez's prior supervisor, Master Sgt. Sammie Spears, Family Health flight chief at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. "Not only does he want to succeed, but he has a passion to make those around him better. He is a humble and incredible person with the innate ability to inspire, motivate and mentor anyone he comes in contact with."
-- You can follow David 'De Fierro' Perez on Facebook