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Raul Altreche '06
Altreche's positive outlook has been an inspiration to almost everyone he's come in contact with.

From Tragedy to Triumph: The Story of Raul Altreche '06

By Kevin Graber, Sports Information Director

December 16, 2004

“Over and over again, life has brought me back to the same questions and same search, exploring who I am and what life has taught me. Life’s counterpart, death, has been a long-lasting friend and has introduced me to some of the most plaguing events in my life, but it’s also taught me to live.” —Raul Altreche ’06, in his 2002 memoir, My Life

AMHERST, MA — Late in the first half, with the season on the line in the 2004 NESCAC Men’s Lacrosse Tournament quarterfinals against perennial power Bowdoin College, Amherst’s all-conference goalie, Cushing Donelan ’05, went to the bench with a roughing penalty. That sent seldom-used sophomore netminder Raul Altreche scurrying on to the field, fists clutching his white goalie stick and legs churning with nervous energy. Like a shark smelling blood in the water, Bowdoin charged downfield almost immediately, rifling the ball around the perimeter until it rested in the hands of its most feared scorer, who stood nearly a foot taller than Altreche and worlds apart in both talent and experience. He took one peek at Amherst’s diminutive reserve goalie — perched cat-like between the pipes, eyes wide as saucers — and uncoiled a point-blank right-handed laser toward the top left corner of the net. Altreche, stiff after watching the first 25 minutes from the sideline, yet unfazed by the scenario unfolding before him, lurched to his right, stick held high, and stopped what would have been the game-tying goal with one of the season’s most spectacular saves. Bowdoin couldn’t believe its misfortune. As Altreche trotted off the field, his day finished after just 80 seconds in goal, scores of teammates and onlookers congratulated him. “Great save, Raul!” and “Nice job, Raul!” they shouted, patting him on the back as he made his way to the bench. “Way to show some guts out there.”

If only they knew.

Altreche was born and raised in the South Bronx section of New York, in a Hispanic neighborhood not far from Yankee Stadium, where life moved to the beat of salsa music and the shouts of children playing tag in the streets. His grandfather had moved to New York from Puerto Rico, found work as a superintendent in an apartment building, and later sent for his wife and children, including Raul’s mother, Madeline. Soon after, 17-year-old Madeline fell in love and married a handsome boy named Raul, whose looks and name would be inherited by his son. They bore three sons, Moses, Raul and Jason, and for a short time, life was like a fairytale. There was no shortage of love in their modest five-room apartment, especially during the holidays, when their home blossomed with home-cooked meals and Christmas gifts and the excitement of family get-togethers. But the neighborhood was rapidly deteriorating, and many of its inhabitants fell victim to the downward spiral of poor living conditions, unemployment and drugs. Like many other men in the neighborhood, Raul’s father succumbed to the lure of the streets, settling into drug addiction and eventually contracting AIDS.

“My mother was always trying to get my father off the streets,” Altreche recalls. “She loved him to death. She’d pick him up wherever he was and didn’t really care. She loved him until the day he died.”

Altreche, only five when his father died, doesn’t remember much about him, only vague flashes, like watching television together or being reprimanded for quarreling with his brothers. But he can recount the most minute details about his mother, some of which are extremely painful. He remembers her not knowing what to say when he asked, “Where’s Daddy? Where is he?” He remembers her growing more and more frail in the months that followed his father’s passing, and recalls being curious about the mask and tubes she used to help her breathing. He remembers wondering why there was an ambulance outside and where the paramedics were taking her.

His mother, who also had contracted AIDS, remained hospitalized for months, and the boys were shuttled off to his grandfather’s apartment, where they lived with their uncles. Raul spoke to his mother only occasionally by telephone, and she promised she’d be home soon, that she’d bring presents, and they’d do all sorts of fun things together. At the same time, she was working to ensure that her Social Security checks would go to support the boys and that they’d be cared for after she, too, succumbed to the disease.

Altreche and his younger brother weren’t allowed to visit their mother — they were too young, and hospital regulations forbade it — but they sneaked in with the help of relatives and the kindness of a sympathetic nurse. He remembers hiding in a closet when one of the “bad” nurses walked by and finally seeing his mother, in bed, looking as if she were about to cry. That was the last time he would see her alive. Her final words to him were mere whispers of “I love you” and “Behave.”

The boys were passed off several times over the next few years, living with their grandmother, moving back in with their grandfather, spending three months with an uncle in Virginia and moving up and down on different floors in their grandfather’s apartment building. They survived on just $1,200 a month, until the oldest, Moses, turned 18, when the funds dwindled to $1,000. The boys learned to do without and became painfully aware of life’s harsh realities: rent, electricity bills, rationing food and taking care of one’s belongings, because there would be no new ones.

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