NEW YORK The first thing you notice about 31-year-old Michael Fradera is his smile, which is saying something considering he lost both his legs to a roadside bomb on August 17, 2007, while serving his second tour for the Army in Iraq.
He was standing on the floating docks of Pier 59, taking pictures and getting autographed from an emotional Wade Boggs after both had fished in the FCA Manhattan Cup.
"Thank you for everything you've done," Boggs said to Fradera and the four other wounded veterans that fished the cup.
Fradera, who entered the military as a Marine when he was 21 and switched to the army when he was 25, is originally from Brooklyn, but it was a connection he made while speaking nine months ago on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project in Orlando that led to him to Pier 59 in Manhattan. One of the hundreds of people in the audience that day was Peter J. Martin, president of Ameripack, a New Jersey based company specializing in custom carrying and transit cases.
Martin, whose father and grandfather had been injured in combat, was touched by Fredera's story, and wanted to support the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to severely injured service members during the time between active duty and transition to civilian.
"I saw Mike up there giving his speech and decided to donate some money," Martin said. "Then I thought, why not get them involved with the Cup. It's a great environment, plus it's going to make people aware of these guys and what they can do. These guys can do anything."
Fradera certainly thinks so. His legs have been replaced by prosthetics, which allowed him to snow ski with other wounded warriors in Montana. He's also completed two marathons on a hand bike and hopes to qualify in that event for the Paraplegic Olympics.
"It's all upper body," Fradera said. "It's tough adjusting, but I'm doing it. I'm managing to get through it."
Martin said he plans on sponsoring a wounded warrior team in the Manhattan Cup a yearly tradition.
"These guys are real people, they want to participate and all they need is a chance," he said.
Fradera credited the Wounded Warrior Project and people like Martin for his recovery. He said without the project, he didn't know how he would have adjusted. He said it's events like the Manhattan Cup that keep him motivated, even if it's something he never considered possible for a number of reasons.
"I grew up here and it never occurred to me to fish the East River," he said with a smile.