After surviving shooting, Va. soccer star plays every game with a bullet lodged inches from his spine

After surviving shooting, Va. soccer star plays every game with a bullet lodged inches from his spine


After surviving shooting, Va. soccer star plays every game with a bullet lodged inches from his spine

A standout soccer player in the Washington, DC area survived a gunshot wound to the stomach last July to earn his way back as a starter on this year’s team.

The Washington Post tells the story of Luis Ronaldo Vilca. While on vacation to visit family in Lima, Peru, last July, Falls Church (Va.) rising senior Vilca was shot in the stomach while carrying groceries. He had to wait 16 hours in the hospital before undergoing surgery.

After surviving that horrific ordeal, Vilca has overcome incidental nerve damage to his leg to return to his role as a senior starting defensive midfielder for the Jaguars. Perhaps as a result of his accident, Vilca has earned the nickname, “Shooter.”

“The team didn’t just gain another player,” Falls Church assistant coach Cristian Alvarado told the Post. “They gained a brother back.”

Falls Church coach Joel Harrop recalled to the Post when Vilca exited last year’s Virginia 5A state final with cramping. Now, he knows one of his standout players has set a standard for resiliency, one that has been tested on several occasions this spring when Vilca encountered a cleat to the head followed by a wayward knee to his right thigh a few days later.

“He knows the difference between being hurt and being injured,” Falls Church fullback Paul Green told the Post.

The shooting occurred when Vilca was in the Chorillos district of Lima, at his grandmother’s house during a surprise visit for his uncle’s 50th birthday. While Vilca crossed a busy road with groceries in his hand and his uncle behind him, a single gunshot rang out at 11:12 a.m., about 20 feet from Vilca’s position in the road. Per the Post, two men had been arguing about a shoddy parking job. The man inside one car fired his handgun, missing his target and striking Vilca instead, before speeding away.

“I was telling my uncle, ‘Please, I don’t want to die right here,’” Vilca recalled to the Post.

The ordeal sounded nothing short of terrifying.

After waiting 20 minutes for an ambulance, and far longer once in the hospital, he awoke the next morning at 8 a.m., eventually seeing his father, Jaime, and mother, Elvira. After surgery, doctors explained to Vilca that they had removed 25 centimeters of his small intestine and that inflammation had caused nerve damage in his left leg. They said it would take years for those nerves to fully regenerate, and that if the bullet had landed an inch further right he would be peeing into a plastic bag the rest of his life. An inch higher and he’d be dead.

With the bullet was resting two inches from his spine, the doctors said that trying to remove it would risk paralyzing him for life.

What has followed is a long, arduous comeback, one that has caused Vilca to increase his resolve.

“I thought about it on the plane and everything,” Vilca told the Post. “I promised myself I wouldn’t stop. I would keep going for the team to motivate other players to keep going, so that they could see that if I could do it, then they could do it too.”

A brief pause. A glance downward.

“Because I have a bullet inside,” he said.

You can read the rest of the Post’s incredible story on Vilca’s harrowing ordeal and inspiring journey back here.


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