SPRINGVILLE, NY - A local equestrian star has gone through injury, infection and even scandal. Some questioned whether Darren Chiacchia would ever make it back to the big stage.
Now, he says he's ready to win.
"You gotta want to live, you can't give up and there are moments where that temptation is there," Chiacchia said, at his farm in Springville.
Chiacchia is back in form - competing in the sport he was born to play.
"I never doubted myself from the time I was seven years old, I'm not about to start now," he said.
This past fall, Chiacchia was diagnosed with fungal meningitis, which attacks the body's spinal fluid and the membrane between the brain and skull. It's believed he became infected through his farm work or from competing.
After becoming ill, he's back, healthy again.
"I went from literally my death bed to walking around the halls in 24 hours, it was that quick of a turn around," he said and that, "when I became aware like, I could die from this, I was like, no way, no way, after all of this, this is not going to happen."
Four years prior, he suffered from a traumatic brain injury when a horse fell on him in competition. Chiacchia recovered from that and has no major side effects. And now, he's slowly gotten back into competition and back into shape.
"It began with one horse for 20 minutes and try to do more the next day and then two horses and slowly build up," he said.
He competes once or twice a month to try to qualify for the World Equestrian Games next summer in Normandy. Success there could lead to the Olympics in Brazil in 2016.
"It's not about getting to the Olympics, it's about always to me, being the best rider I can be, being the best horseman I can be and doing what's right by my horse," said Chiacchia.
He says his family has been very supportive in every up and down.
Plus he credits a small staff of helpers who assist him around his farm in Springville, taking care of his horses.
Combined, they have helped Chiacchia get to full strength and back on a horse where he feels most at peace.
In the meantime, Chiacchia is in the process of writing an autobiography. Also, buying and selling horses and teaching people how to ride.
Chiacchia is still battling a pending legal issue.
In January 2010, Chiacchia was charged with allegedly failing to disclose that he had HIV when he was in a relationship. That charge was dropped and Chiacchia says he never had HIV.
However, in late May of this year, a Florida appeals court disagreed with the judge for dropping that charge.
So, this matter may head to the Florida Supreme Court in the future.