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The Gazette, Sunday, August 20, 2000 (Sports Section page SP8)

Blindness hasn't been a handicap

Cyclist tries again for senior title



King's file: Birthdate: 

Nov. 2, 1965

Hometown: Colorado Springs


University of Notre Dame, B.S. in Electrical Engineeering & Music (pipe organ performance), 1989



Engineer, IBM



King has qualified to compete at the 2000 Paralympic Games with Kirk Whiteman (match sprints) of New York and Mark Guerin (1-kilometer time trial) of Colorado Springs.


EDS Elite National Track Cycling Championships

August 22-26


10 am, Saturday

7 pm Finals



On July 23, Lance Armstrong, after overcoming a struggle with cancer, wins his second Tour de France. On July 16, Marla Runyan becomes the first legally blind athlete to earn a spot on an Olympic team.


Those are two amazing sources of inspiration. But, there is one Colorado Springs resident for whom the inspiration is especially powerful: Matt King, an elite cyclist who is totally blind.


On Saturday, King makes his fourth attempt at becoming the first blind athlete to win a senior title in U.S. Cycling Federation history. And it will happen in Colorado Springs at the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Memorial Park.


This time, paired with Kirk Whiteman, 34, of New York, with whom King earned his 11th U.S. Association of Blind Athletes national championship and a spot on the 2000 Paralympic Cycling team, the prospects are good.


A few weeks ago in Pennsylvania, King and Whiteman had several successful matches against some opponents they will face. And their racing form looks good as they have already defeated the current Paralympic world champions three out of four matches this year.


"With Kirk's experience and talent and our mutual desire to win, we have good reason to be optimistic", King said.


Indeed, Whiteman has the experience, having raced tandems for 10 years (although with a sighted stoker) and having won several tandem championship medals, including one gold, and numerous world and national titles on his single bike.


And what does Whiteman have to say about making the switch to racing with a blind stoker?


"Matt is a great athlete, and he outworks me," he said. "His lack of vision has not impaired his ability to be the best he can be in anything."


King's strongest finish in the elite/professional sprint field is third at the 1998 USCF elite national championships with Garth Blackburn. 


"Standing on the podium in the midst of so many top cyclists really made me feel proud," King said. "It wasn't just the fact that we had a third-place finish, but that we'd qualified second fastest by a considerable margin and very nearly knocked off the second-place team in a best-of-three series that went to three rides".


To King, 34, an IBM engineer, the event was more than just an athletic victory. It marked the entry point of blind cyclists into elite ranks.


"I was so proud to finally be a part of the big boys club, to be right there with the nation's top riders," King said.


That went a long way toward spreading the message of King's athletic mission.


"I hope that people who watch me race here and watch the Paralympics will learn that we shouldn't expect less of someone just because they have a disability," he said. Certainly, sighted cyclists who race against me and lose, learn to think of me as a bike racer who needs to be beat rather than as a blind guy on a bike".


King lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa in his late teens. As a child, especially as a teenager, blindness was difficult to handle.


"Even though I couldn't walk independently at night or in dim lighting, couldn't read normal print without bright light and lots of magnification, and even though glasses would not help, I wouldn't ever describe myself with the label blind. I thought of blindness as something degrading," he said. "That word made me want to shrink away."


Not until his freshman year at Notre Dame did King finally have to give way to his loss of vision and stop bicycling on his own. That was an extremely difficult period of time for him, but it was the turning point.


That was when he finally came to grips with his impaired vision, recognizing it for what it was - a characteristic, a trait, not a handicap or degrading quality.


King hasn't always been a sprinter. His training for the last four years has been a significant deviation from the preparation that garnered a world record for King and partner Spencer Yates at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta in the men's 4-kilometer pursuit, an endurance event.


King had strong reasons for turning his focus to the short-distance event. First, there are only two events in elite tandem racing with national titles where King could have the opportunity to pit himself against top sighted cyclists: the 40-kilometer time trial (a road event) and the track match sprint.


"Like many other cyclists, I dreamed of a national title, and I knew which one I wanted," he said. I enjoy head-to-head, elbow-to-elbow battles and that leaves me one option". 


Team King
Telephone: 719.339.1557

updated 08/20/2000
Copyright 2000 Team King All Rights Reserved

US Paralympics

US Paralympics