Sunday – August 20, 2017
Julio Rivera Conquers Physical Challenges to Pursue MATC Machining Diploma
“I’m alive today because of a miracle,” explained Milwaukee Area Technical College student Julio Rivera. The energetic, determined man with the ready smile said that he will not allow the physical challenges of having lost both legs in a horrific motorcycle accident get in the way of earning an MATC technical diploma in machine tool operations.
Rivera was riding motorcycles with a group of friends and family on May 16, 2008, when he sped out of an intersection at 76th Street and Forest Home Avenue in Greenfield, Wis. “I was being reckless,” he said ruefully. “I have no memory of the accident. I was doing a wheelie in traffic, lost control and must have thrown myself off my bike. The police determined I was going 89 miles per hour at the point of impact.” He hit a steel street sign that sheared off a great portion of his legs and crushed the bones above that, forcing the doctors to remove the remaining flesh and bone above his thighs.
Most onlookers thought he was dead. “My friends just saw smoke,” he said. “They thought I was gone. Then one guy saw me in a ditch and flagged people down.” A woman he assumes was an EMT or nurse stopped to help. Rivera credits her with saving his life.
Saved by a Stranger
“I’m here because she pulled over,” Rivera said. “I still don’t know who she is. Everyone flooded the hospital immediately, people rushed to support me. My wife and children were very supportive. So many people came out of nowhere to help out. I didn’t know there were so many good people left in the world.”
After numerous surgeries, procedures and rehabilitation, Rivera now wears computerized prosthetic legs. He usually wears shorts so that he can make adjustments to his prosthetics. He deals with phantom pain, soreness and difficulty because his leg stumps continue to shrink. He now wears prosthetic legs 8-10 hours a day, but uses a wheelchair at home if his legs hurt too badly. Rivera continues to have complications, but he is determined to make something of his life.
Rivera inspires his classmates and instructors with his determination and positive attitude in the face of adversity.
“I always have to be doing something,” he said. When he first came home after the accident, he attempted to remodel his kitchen from a wheelchair. Eventually, his brother lured him to try to stand on his prosthetic legs so he could work on cars. “That did it. I’m passionate about cars,” Rivera said.
Before the accident, Rivera was a construction supervisor for Keystone Marble and Granite. After the accident, he performed CNC (computer numerical control) work for the company from his wheelchair. But as the economy declined, Keystone Marble and Granite downsized and had to lay Rivera off.
Enrolled at MATC in Fall 2016
Rivera decided he wanted to enroll in the machine tool operations: CNC setup and operations technical diploma program at MATC because he wanted to learn more about the work and he knew having a diploma would make him a more marketable employee. He enrolled in fall 2016 and hopes to graduate in spring 2017. The program covers the setup and operation of the CNC vertical machining center and the CNC turning center, skills that are in high demand at many manufacturing firms. Workers use machines and tools to make precisely cut metal parts.
“I like CNC setup,” he said. “I like creating something out of nothing, learning to do angle cuts and programming.” Rivera hopes that one day he will be able to use his knowledge and talents in CNC machining to engineer and create better prosthetics for himself and others.
Manual machining requires physical strength and a great deal of standing, which takes a daily physical toll on Rivera. He walks in a stilted fashion. On one of his first days in class, he fell, leaving MATC machining instructor Mary Rooney both shaken and amazed.
“It’s not easy. But I’m committed to this. I’ve got to pull through.
It’s frustrating when your legs don’t cooperate.
But you have to commit to something you love doing.
It’s not impossible. I came back from my accident a positive man.
Always have a positive attitude and you’ll get a positive outcome.”
- Julio Rivera
Overcomes Obstacles Every Day
“When he fell, I naturally reached to assist him,” Rooney said. “He said, ‘No, I have to do it myself.’ I was overwhelmed by inspiration. Julio overcomes obstacles every day to get to class. Life may have knocked him down, but he will keep getting up.”
Standing at the manual machines in class is challenging. At times, he needs to make adaptations, but he always finds a way, according to his classmates and instructors. “Julio is very motivated and very creative about the ways he approaches and completes his work,” said teaching assistant Kim Bertrand.
Classmate Sang Thao said, “I’m amazed that he never lets anything slow him down. He jokes around and encourages other students.”
Positive Attitude Leads to Positive Outcome
“It’s not easy,’ Rivera said. “But I’m committed to this. I’ve got to pull through. It’s frustrating when your legs don’t cooperate. But you have to commit to something you love doing. It’s not impossible. I came back from my accident a positive man. Always have a positive attitude and you’ll get a positive outcome.”
Rivera hopes to one day use his CNC machining skills to make better prosthetics for himself and others.
Rivera hopes to land a CNC programming job which will allow him to work seated most of the time. He is concerned about discrimination against people with disabilities, he said. “I think employers look at us as a liability. They may fear we will get hurt and sue. I’m not thinking like that. I would feel grateful for the chance.”
MATC machining instructor Ira Smith said, “Any employer would be lucky to have a worker like Julio. He is dedicated, talented and comes to class regularly. I’m sure there are companies that will give him that chance. Julio is the personification of determination, a person who has a goal.”
For more information on the machine tool operations: CNC setup and operations technical diploma program, visit: http://www.matc.edu/tas/diplomas/machine-tool-operations-cnc.cfm