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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Kirk's experience and talent and our mutual desire to win, we have good
reason to be optimistic", King said.
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.
what does Whiteman have to say about making the switch to racing with a
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
strongest finish in the elite/professional sprint field is third at the
1998 USCF elite national championships with Garth Blackburn.
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".
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.
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.
went a long way toward spreading the message of King's athletic mission.
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".
lost his sight to retinitis pigmentosa in his late teens. As a child,
especially as a teenager, blindness was difficult to handle.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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".