I am an athlete and I am a person with a disability. I choose to compete in the Paralympic circuit as a cyclist because I have high aspirations to experience being one of the best cyclists in the world with a disability, because I love the sport and I love the challenge. It is very challenging, as you might imagine. The physical demands of the sport: long training rides in the heat, maximum efforts that drain the legs for days, always feeling sore and achy with the occasional injury being the norm. These are not the only challenges.
Cycling, specifically, is an expensive sport to get into. The overhead of the bikes, race equipment, and traveling all pose as barriers to both new comers and veterans, alike. There is also the challenge of how to plan the type of training you do. What types of events do you enjoy? What events do you excel at? What types of riding are accessible to your geography? How do you know what training you need to do on Tuesday versus Thursday?
When I was 10 years old, I crashed my bike and broke my arm. I broke my good arm, I should clarify. The four weeks I was in a cast was the most difficult four weeks of my childhood. I had to figure out how to do everything with my bad arm. What I mean by “bad arm” is that I have a Brachial Plexus injury incurred at birth which has caused a permanent palsy of my left arm, i.e., partial paralysis. Everything was hard. From brushing my teeth, feeding myself, using the restroom, getting dressed…everything. This was an understandably traumatic experience, so I just never gravitated towards the bike after healing. It wasn’t until I was in college that I found myself in need of cheap transportation. In my adult life, I started cycling as a commuter. I definitely had quite a bit of lingering fear to overcome, but I made it work.
After college, I bought my first road bike to facilitate a longer bike commute. Shortly after, I fell in love with the sensation of freedom the bike bestows upon me. I also learned about Paralympic Sports around the same time and my interest was piqued. As I stated earlier, it was hard to get started. What made it all possible was a team of social network (Not Facebook) who supported me, for which I would not be living the life I love today, without.
Just after I first started attending informal Saturday group rides, an older gentleman named Kent bought me my first cycling jersey and helped me learn about training, after getting to know me. A guy named Jason gave me a set of used pedals that helped me clip in more easily. The Challenged Athletes Foundation helped me buy my first race bike. My dad, a frequent flyer, got me plane tickets to travel to important races. By showing up at some of the races for Paralympic Cycling, I was able to demonstrate the potential I had as an athlete. This led to another support program, which was my first Talent ID camp. Talent ID camps are a way many Paralympic sport programs identify athletes who may have an aptitude and interest in high performance sport. This camp changed my life.
I showed enough potential as a track cyclist that I was requested to train with the national team at the time. I won my first 2 National Championships a few weeks later and was then accepted to train at the Olympic Training Center (now the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Fast forward several years later, and I realize that I could not do what I am able to do without the massive amount of support I continue to receive. Not only from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, but from every person who touches my life.
My teammates and I are always there to push each other. It’s not only the athletes that I train with that support me, but that athletes that came before me that set precedents and shared invaluable advice from their experiences. My coaches are thoughtful, experienced, and appreciate the collaborative approach I insist upon. The RMADAC not only supports my cycling by allowing me time out of the office to compete abroad, but everyone always seems way more excited than I am about my accomplishments in sport. Last to mention is my family, who delivers unwavering support and understanding of my schedule and day-to-day limitations due to my endeavors, especially my wonderful wife, Kelly.
I realize that there are way too many people and organizations to list which have been essential to help get me where I am today. If you have an interest in any aspect of life, but hesitate due to having a disability, more often than not there is an organization willing to assist or a person to learn from. It has never been easier to seek these resources out and no one will ever be mad that you asked.
I share this not only to explain my path into sports for people with disabilities, but to create an analogy to the ADA. People with disabilities in the United States owe a great deal to those who came before us, who set precedents in access and civil rights. Implementation of the ADA is in a constant state of growth, and at times can only be accomplished by individuals willing to take initiative. Our communities are our best support groups to assist us with achieving all that life has to offer us, from our friends, families, independent living centers, etc.
Just like in sport, no one can do the work for you, but each support you have access to plays a role that help to form a broad foundation of civil liberty. If you live with a disability and find yourself in a circumstance that just isn’t right, support does exist to assist you. The RMADAC can give you the information you need or send to you the right place to find that information. Just know that you are not alone, great acts are seldom accomplished without help, and if you are willing step outside your comfort zone, you may find a larger team on your side than you realized.