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Spreading the word about Paralympic cycling from teammate Jason Bryn

Friday, August 27, 2004

 

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 athletes.  

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 impressive group. 

Having such quality people on this team makes this experience so special, so rewarding.  Just had to share it.   

- Jason

 

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Telephone: 719.339.1557
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updated 09/18/2004
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US Paralympics

US Paralympics