One of the subjects that often comes to the
forefront of discussion at team training camps among team members is
public awareness of disabled cycling and recruitment of other
disabled athletes. We so often hear family, friends and
acquaintenances explain to others that we are going to Athens to
compete in the "Special Olympics". For many
teammates, this really bothers them.
We have found that in the U.S., paralympic
sports is relatively unknown in comparison to other parts of the World.
For example, the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games is being televised
throughout Europe, in Australia and Canada. But not in the U.S.
Negotiations fell through with ESPN, OLN and Lifetime, we are told.
Take a look at some of their programming in comparison to this event.
It's too bad. In fact, my website is a response to there being
no TV coverage of the Athens Paralympic Games - wanted a way to keep
family, friends and supporters informed.
At the 2000 Sydney Games in Australia,
there were more tickets sold for the Paralympic Games than the Olympic
Games! After the Paralympics the Australian Paralympic team had over
1.4 million people show up for a parade through Sydney! Talk about
support - wow! Many of the Australian Paralympians are
national heroes and well known in their country.
In contrast, an airline pilot of a
U.S. commercial airliner welcomed the U.S. Paralympic Team on its way to
Sydney, Australia in 2000 by announcing to other passengers to
"welcome the U.S. Special Olympic Team".
To me its simple awareness and exposure.
One of the ways to increase exposure to the public is for disabled
athletes to compete (and beat) able bodied athletes. My teammates
believe that is the key in attracting sponsors and media. In Tucson,
that is what Greg Hockensmith (hand cyclist from Tucson also on 2004
Athens/U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team), Scott Smith (visually impaired with
RP like me racing on tandem with Andy DuVall - my former pilot and other
Presteza Racing Team members) and I do. We all compete in
regular (able body) cycling events and races. This includes events
such at El Tour de Tucson, Tour of the Tucson Mountains and USCF races
(racer circuit). For example, I won this year's Tour of the Tucson
Mountains on tandem and am a two-time AZ state time trial tandem champion.
All against able bodied racers.
To me and most of my teammates, that is the
point. Such participation and success helps increase the
awareness that disabled athletes are...well, just athletes who happen to
have a physical disability.
When we arrived at the Olympic Training
Center camp on Sunday, a developmental cycling camp was being conducted.
Approximately 12 disabled athletes with different disabilities
(blind/visually impaired, amputees, Cerebral Palsy, paralysis and atrophy)
were attending. This camp was an introductory camp to cycling
and the U.S. Paralympic cycling program. There were five
blind/visually impaired tandems, so that was exciting to me.
It was neat to see my teammates immediately
spend time during meals and in the dorms with the newcomers. We
welcomed them with open arms. In fact, several of them were
surprised we were so receptive to encourage and recruit our own
competition, so to speak. But, that is not how we see it. See,
my 14 teammates are all similar to me. They use this opportunity
with their own cycling success to pass on the message that athletics can
be a form of purification related to their physical disability and that a
disability does not have to be "life ending".
I and another teammate were asked to talk
to the group during one of their evening sessions and tell them our
personal life and Paralympic cycling stories and answer questions.
It was a neat opportunity. It was very fulfilling to see
the fire and excitement in many of them.
Was great to see Scott Smith from Tucson
have this exposure and opportunity at the Olympic Training Center. I
fully expect him to be heading to Beijing, China in four years. Was
also great to see visually-impaired cyclist, Ron Burzese, who barely
missed making the Athens team at trials in the sprint event by a couple of
hundreths of a second.
One of the messages that we passed on
to the group was to get involved in their local cycling and racing
community, wherever they were from. We told them to start racing on
the USCF circuit. For the blind/visually impaired cyclists, I
told them to call around and locate cyclists who would serve as their
tandem "pilots". I also encouraged them to find several
and not just one.
We feel that inclusion in their
local cycling community as opposed to competing in only disabled
competitions will give them experience and increase the awareness of
the general public and others with disabilities who may be potential
Several of my teammates, like me, were able-body
athletes before physical disability. Besides me with Division III
college basketball, we have a teammate (Bradley Cobb) who was a nationally
ranked 400 meter sprinter running track at the University of Kansas.
He then lost his leg in a car accident and is an amputee at the hip. By
the way, he is an ophthamologist, business owner, husband and father.
Another amputee (below the knee) was a junior national caliber soccer
player before he lost his leg to cancer (Ron Williams - he was featured on
OLN during the Tour de France as one of the "Most Courageous
Athletes". He also was up for an ESPN ESPY Award in July for
Disabled Athlete of the Year). He then became a world class water
skier with one leg before cycling. He is married and is an outside
sales representative in Alabama (www.ronswilliams.com
)Another teammate (below the knee amputee) is a world class triathelte,
who has qualified and finished several Hawaiian iron man triatholons
(Paul Martin). He is also an author, recently writing his
biography, "One Man's Leg" ( www.onemansleg.com
). Three of my teammates are engineers. A pretty
Having such quality people on this team makes
this experience so special, so rewarding. Just had to share it.