Photo by Joe A. Mendoza/CSU Photography
When Mario Cardoza-Reyes regained consciousness in the hospital on Aug. 8, 2021, his last clear memory was riding home on his motorcycle from his friend’s house. He had been unconscious for nearly two days because of a traumatic brain injury.
The moments between riding his purple Honda cruiser on Leetsdale Drive in Denver and his hospital stay are a fog. He said he doesn’t remember what happened, nor do the police. “I don’t have memories,” he said. “It’s dreamlike.”
Cardoza acknowledges that he’s lucky to be alive, as he wasn’t wearing a helmet on that day, something he usually does. He left the hospital with no broken bones, only a bad gash on his head. However, it was the weeks and months ahead that proved to be difficult.
After the accident, Cardoza, majoring in forest and rangeland stewardship, said doctors recommended he take a semester off. Initially, he said he felt fine, but after the dust settled, the effects of the trauma started to appear.
Cardoza explained it was around Thanksgiving when the migraines started getting worse. A clear, white liquid sometimes dripped from his nose. His neck and back ached sitting in class because he avoided wearing his brace, self-conscious of the stares from classmates.
“Things got tough,” said Cardoza, who is graduating from Colorado State University with a degree focusing on forest and rangeland stewardship. “I was 75% done with the semester when I realized the fallacy that I was OK. Most people couldn’t tell I was injured; I could talk, walk, and breathe. Only a few knew I was telling the truth because they could see my mind trying to piece things together, aside from me communicating with them about this unpredictable situation.”
Looking back, Cardoza said he probably should have listened to his doctors and take some time off, but he remembered the promise he made to his parents several years before.
“When I joined the Army, I told them I would go to college,” he said. “My parents came here to the United States from poverty in Mexico so they could have a better life for themselves and their kids could live the American dream.”
It was after his return from Iraq in 2019 that he bought his motorcycle, something he sometimes rode through Poudre Canyon to be closer to nature, he said. He also took long trips out of state to In-N-Out Burger.
As Cardoza prepares for graduation, he said he plans on repairing his motorcycle and always wearing his helmet. Graduate school may be in the future as well as a job in forestry. But before Cardoza decides, he said is going to take some much-needed time to focus on his mental and physical health.
“I know where I want to go next,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how I want to do it, and which path.”
In their own words
Q. What was the most rewarding part of your CSU experience?
Being the son of immigrant parents to get a STEM degree. Being a Latino veteran traversing into the Natural Resource field that has been historically ostracizing to underrepresented groups. I would not have done this without the help of my adviser, professors, or CFRI. Being able to attend the mountain campus (NR220) is a major highlight of my CSU experience.
Q. What was your favorite non-academic experience at CSU?
I didn’t really have much time to enjoy myself. Between school, work, family (back-to-back deaths), the army (deployment), and life I didn’t have much time to have a “normal” college life. During the times that I did have, I liked to play video games, spontaneous road trips to the national parks (pass by in and out in Utah before they opened in Colorado), ride the motorcycle, and try out different breweries.
Q. What is your advice to incoming students at CSU?
Get out of the high school mentality. Show up to class. You are paying thousands of dollars to be here, make the most out of it. Go to student organizations and make friends (good influence friends). Make informed decisions (SMART goals). Be a filter not a sponge. Wear a helmet. It is OK to not know your major; go explore, find your passions, and roll with them. Don’t study what your parents want you to. Don’t burn yourself out, pace yourself. This is a long run, not a sprint. Find an internship to get your feet wet, to see if that is something you want as a career. Be yourself, represent your raíces (roots) and identity with pride. If a four-year university is not for you but trade school is, that is absolutely okay both are paths to success. My dad always told us that plans A, B, and C won’t always happen the way we want them, but it is OK. Adapt and overcome.