SAN ANTONIO — Diego Mercado is happy he's finally getting noticed. The teen is in the Netflix movie "Mixtape." But the recognition hasn't come easy.
"So right from birth, I was different," Diego said.
The 15-year-old Medina Valley High School student was born with amniotic band syndrome. It's a condition typically caused by damage to the inner layer of the placenta.
"He was born without his right lower tibia and only two fingers on his right hand," Jason Mercado said.
Mercado, an Army captain, was expecting his second child to be as healthy as his first son, and there were no indications to contradict that until Diego was born. For the Mercado, it was so shocking that he hesitated when the nurse asked him if he wanted to hold his son.
"And so that was traumatic for me," Mercado said.
The father of four said he looked to God for answers, and he realized Diego's condition and military training complemented each other.
"It was is exactly the formula that Diego needed to succeed," he said.
No feeling sorry for his son. Diego cut grass and pulled his weight like everyone else. Even when it broke his heart as a father, Mercado stayed the course to make his son strong.
"He would fall down, and I said, Hey, get back up," Mercado said. "It's the same thing. I would tell a soldier."
For a while, Diego didn't realize he was different from other children until the questions started to pile up.
"They would say, 'Hey, what's wrong with your leg?'" Mercado said. "He's (Diego) like, 'What's wrong with my leg? That's my leg.'"
His father told him to tell people a shark ate it off and, now, he's got a robotic leg.
Diego tried to adjust. But due to his physical appearance, cruelty from bullies started.
"I remember, like being shoved up against the fence and stuff like that," Diego said. "I used to be bullied heavily because of my appearance. I was different than all these other kids, and they don't know what different meant."
According to Diego, he stood up to one of his bullies. He said they became friends and started defending other kids from bullying.
The teen is a fitness enthusiast who likes the great outdoors and loves the military. He'd rather become an Army ranger than be an actor.
"I saw my dad doing it. When I was little, I was like, Oh my gosh, I got to do this too, right?" Diego said. "He's a soldier. I want to be a soldier."
Like those with physical challenges, the Bexar County teen can't join the armed services because of medical limitations. But the teen is determined to lobby Congress to change the rules.
"I've been working out just to prove to people, hey, I have worth," he said. "I can do the same thing you guys can do, if not more."
He got military fatigue, airsoft assault rifles, and more. His gear has even made neighbors and law enforcement uncomfortable at times.
Diego love for the military caught the attention of super workout veteran Jose Luis Sanchez, a Marine. Their viral video as two amputees working out together became the seed for Diego's burgeoning fame.
The calls came in from big industry names but never came to fruition. Then, the Mixtape audition happened for the role of Steven Gonzalez. The character, ironically, is a bully who uses a wheelchair.
"So I used my real-life experience, and I put it into my acting," Diego said.
The teen remembers getting the call that felt like an opportunity to do another read.
"My first ever job as an actor was the Netflix role," he said. "You got to be kidding me. When I first got that call from them saying, you got the job; I almost passed out."
Mercado said all of the moments of doubt about his son's future are beginning to pay off. His son can do just as much as any other child, so they steer clear of the word disability.
"You know it to be the first teen amputee cast by Netflix. It's a historic moment for him," Mercado said. "It speaks volumes to the disabilities community."
He said people are going to look to his son for inspiration. Diego said he could already feel the eyes.
"My real turnaround point is that people are starting to notice what I'm trying to do," he said. "People are starting to notice, Hey, this guy's this guy can do anything he puts his mind to."