Shrull: Perseverance prevails for many para-cyclists
Competitors went to the podium to accept their hard-earned national championship medals as the small crowd cheered and applauded.
Athletes in wheelchairs rolled to the podium. Some used walking canes for balance, and some hopped on one leg.
Then the congratulations among the competitors begun. Hugs, handshakes, high-fives, smiles and laughter as they talked about their memorable four days in Grand Junction.
Camaraderie is the word. It’s camaraderie among these competitors who understand the meaning of adversity.
They know that meaning so much more than most of us.
From car crashes to exploding roadside bombs, to cancer to freak accidents, these para-cyclists know what it’s like to have their life forever changed.
The camaraderie is as recognizable as their determination.
“I lost my arm when I was 2,” said Jason Griffin. “I can’t stand up (on the bike), so I can’t generate more power like that.”
A smile then takes hold, then morphs into a grin.
“Life’s not fair, you just have to pedal a little harder, that’s all.”
Think about it. A bicycle racer without his right arm. That can’t be easy. But for him, it’s no problem.
That mentality and can-do attitude has taken hold with everyone of these para-cyclists. They’ve basically embraced their adversity and rolled with it.
The paralyzed and quadriplegic riders climb into their hand-cycles and power through the miles with just their arms.
Others have lost legs or arms or are visually impaired or have traumatic brain injuries. But they all have that determination to stay active and that resolve to scoff at the adversity that hit them harder than we can imagine.
They ride bikes for the same reason as everyone else rides bikes: To stay active, to compete, to exercise, to feel better about themselves, to suffer on climbs and to let the satisfaction of a great ride wash over them at the end of the day.
Will Groulx is a quadriplegic from Portland who races for the Paralyzed Veterans of America cycling team.
“With our team alone, there’s a tremendous amount of camaraderie, not only have we gone through adversity with our injuries but we all served in the military as well,” he said holding his gold medal from his hand-cycle race.
“Beyond our team, everyone who is here that we’re racing with, it’s cool to see that they have also overcome that adversity too and came here to race.”
Griffin agreed: “It’s a great reunion, we don’t get to see a lot of these people that much.”
For the spectators, to see the para-athlete’s determined effort to be active and accept their circumstances and keep moving forward, is inspiring.
For them, it’s not a big deal. They’re just cyclists who enjoy getting out and enjoying a day on the bike.
They took on more adversity than most of us will ever know. But it’s not the adversity that shaped them. It’s the fact that they refused to accept the reality adversity handed them.
We, the able-bodied, can never understand what it’s like to use nothing but arms to power a hand-cycle. We don’t know what it’s like to ride a bike with one leg or one arm.
Todd Key, 56, of Scottsdale, Arizona lost his right leg to cancer when he 17.
He loved bicycling, so a missing leg wasn’t a reason to hang up the bike.
“I rode in college and figured out how to strap my prosthetic to the back of my bike,” he said.
But it became painful.
“After a couple of years, it got uncomfortable and painful. When you don’t have those muscles on the other side, I couldn’t figure out how to ride and make it comfortable.”
That’s when he put the bicycle away, and guess what happened?
“I started getting a little wider in the waist,” he said with a smile.
He wanted to get back on the bike and he wasn’t going to be denied.
Using a little ingenuity, he had a cup-like holder attached to his bike that he can slip the small remaining part of his leg into.
That did the trick.
“I went from being able to ride for 45 minutes to being able to ride for six hours,” he said.
Watching him race is amazing. One leg generating unbelievable power. Adversity led to depression and anger for some, but adversity never defined these para-cyclists.
We all have adversity, and how we react to it molds us, makes us stronger and, for some, adversity wins.
Adversity didn’t win with these para-cyclists. They just adapted and rolled with it.
We can’t understand what these men and women para-cyclists went through to bring them to this point.
And we hope we never do.
Congratulations to all the para-cyclists who competed at nationals.
We can’t understand what you’ve gone through, but we will cheer you on every chance we get.