Three-time gold medalist Fernando Luanco reflects on some of the incredible achievements in his lifetime.
Fernando Lecuona was only 4 months old when one of Cuba's most devastating hurricanes hit. The storm crossed over Havana, where he was born, on Oct. 20, 1926 with maximum winds of 150 mph that left 600 dead. With losses reaching $300 million dollars, it was classified as the most expensive hurricane in Cuban history.
"Tell them about the hurricane I was born in," Lecuona smiles at his wife, Linda Lecuona.
"It hit Cuba where he was born," she said. "Back then, they used to open the doors and just let the hurricane come through. His mother put him in a dresser drawer for safety."
Lecuona looks over and smiles again, well aware of the astonished looks that were appearing on his listeners' faces. Because that is just the beginning of his story.
The Ormond Beach resident has worn many hats in his 89 years: composer, gymnastics coach, mob cab driver, trapeze artist, PGA pro-golfer and olympian. With this success, comes more than 600 medals, hundreds of newspaper articles, piles of certificates of achievement and photos that take him back down memory lane — all packed, very tightly, in a worn, gray briefcase.
Sometimes, a life like this could lead to an individual who speaks of nothing but of his own greatness. However, you won't find a large ego or a lack of appreciation when you talk to Fernando Lecuona yourself.
"He's very gifted," Linda Lecuona said. "I think God gave him a lot of talents. He came to this country and couldn't speak a word of English. But he worked his way through Florida State University and didn't gripe about it. He has a deep appreciation for America."
One of his greatest achievements began with a burning desire to go against the grain of his family's generational talents.
"I was born into a musicial family," Fernando Lecuona said. "They were very well known. I was sick and tired of the music. So I went across the street to the gymnastics center."
From there he worked hard to become a member of Cuba's national gymnastic team, and eventually represented his country in the 1948 Olympic Games in London, where he won first place. Though he doesn't speak much of it now, a quote he gave to the Daytona Beach News Journal in 1996 says it all:
"The emotion is so great that you can't talk," he said. "You know that there are people yelling but you can't hear them. You want to sing the national anthem, but no sound comes out. You are proud and humble and you know that just a single mistake could have made the difference."
He continued his competing career at FSU and brought over his wife and two children. He eventually became the girls gymnastics coach, and an over-bearing schedule led to his divorce.
"I was working full time and completing school," he said. "My wife left me because I was never home. I was too busy doing so many things. She was sick and tired of waiting for me, and I was teaching girls so she didn’t like that."
"First you have to have something that inspires you. Don't force it. Live your life, don't live somebody else's." — Fernando Lecuona
After being a competitive gymnast for some 25 years, Fernando Lecuona moved to Decanter, Alabama to teach at Calhoun Jr. College — and work on his golfing skills. He became a U.S. citizen in 1963 and competed as a U.S. golf-pro from 1968 to 1974. And even though he tried to resist the call to music in his genes, he finally gave in and became a composer.
To date, he has written 88 songs — including a sweet ballad about his wife, Linda — on seven albums and is still working to get some published. He's not worried though, because the talent really is in his blood.
"My uncle was Ernesto Lecuona, who was a composer of world-wide reputation," he said. "My cousin, Margarita Lecuona, composed "Ba-Ba-Lu-Tabu" and other songs for Dezi Arnas for "The Lucy Show."
While working on his composing skills, Fernando Lecuona worked as the director of educational talent search at Bethune-Cookman University, and was responsible for helping start the Outward Bound Program, Special Services and Talent Search – where he located deserving, but disadvantaged youth in Florida and helped them go to college.
Think of the above accomplishments as merely highlights, because it's obvious just by talking to Fernando Lecuona, that there is even more to his story. When asked about what kept him motivated to continuously keep starting new things, he didn't have an answer, just a smile.
"I lived so many years doing so many things," he said, "and I enjoyed every one of them. It's almost like I lived many different lives."
"He could have been anything he wanted, but he always wanted to help people," Linda Lecuona said. "I just think he's such a great guy. The greatest man I've ever met."