LAWRENCE — His dreams of being a firefighter may be on hold, but this 24-year-old soldier isn't giving up.
Three months home from a tour of duty in Iraq, Johnny Jimenez was on his motorcycle Sept. 7 when he was struck by a car driven by a man police say was high on drugs. The Army National Guard sergeant suffered a fractured spine and broken pelvis.
Jimenez remembers nothing about the accident. He woke up in a Boston hospital and has been fighting to regain his strength while still maintaining a good spirit. On Wednesday, he got out of bed and walked just a few feet, without any assistance.
"He's definitely trying," said his wife, Natasha Jimenez.
Jimenez left the Boston hospital Thursday and moved to a rehabilitation hospital in Lowell. After breakfast on Friday, physical therapist Paul Plante began working with Jimenez on a mat to test the strength on his legs.
This is the beginning of a long stretch of physical, occupational and speech therapy he will receive at the hospital before going home.
"My goal is to walk again," Jimenez told Plante.
Jimenez came home from Iraq on June 8. He always wanted a motorcycle and, after saving his money, was able to purchase a Yamaha R1. Jimenez had the bike less than a month when the accident occurred on Prospect Street.
Robert Lechleider of North Andover was arrested at the scene and charged with driving while under the influence of Ecstasy.
Since the accident, people he has never met, local veterans agents, and organizations have visited his bedside and sent cards.
In addition to his health, he is worried about missing the civil service exam to become a firefighter.
"That's something I always wanted to do," said Jimenez.
Helping others is one of Jimenez's many qualities, his wife, Natasha, said.
He was taking a course to become an emergency medical technician, and worked for five months as a correctional officer at the Middleton jail.
He joined the Army to defend his country and help pay for college. He wanted to study criminal justice, in hopes of becoming a state trooper.
"Being a soldier gives you a sense of pride that you're defending something that's yours," he said. "It's the feeling you get when you help somebody and they are thankful."
Jimenez said his time in Iraq taught him to appreciate freedom even more.
"That's why I love to ride because I felt so free," he said. "I don't regret buying the bike. I do regret taking it for a ride that day. I should have waited."
Jimenez was sad when he saw pictures of his mangled bike. "I worked so hard to get it and it was taken away just like that," he said.
His mother, Francisca Vargas, who never liked the idea of Jimenez owning a bike, shook her head.
Then, she took a deep sigh and said, "I have to thank God because he's doing better. The important thing is that he is alive."
While Jimenez was in Iraq, Vargas and her mother prayed constantly for his safe return.
"When he left, I thought the world had ended and he was never coming back," Vargas said.
Jimenez's wife never told Vargas the exact day of his return and her son just showed up at her doorstep.
"I got my life back when Johnny came home," she said.
But Vargas' world was shattered when she saw her son lying on a bed at Boston Medical Center.
"I told him if he could hear me to squeeze my hands, which he did, then started to cry," Vargas said.
Jimenez said he would never ride a motorcycle again, for his mother's sake.
"I loved the excitement and thrill of it, but I'm not going to need that anymore."