published: Friday, February 08, 2013
Pedal for the medal
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
To be defeated or to defeat the odds? That is a question that each member of the U.S. Paralympics team has had to face.
To anyone who caught a glimpse of the nine members who belong to the U.S. Hand Cycling Team in Clermont last week as they began training for the start of their season, the path they've chosen is evident.
Members from across the United States rode their bikes up and down South Lake's hilly terrain for hours at a time the entire week. Garbed in official Team USA gear, they fought attitudes that would give able-bodied athletes a run for their money.
"When I was first injured, I was devastated. I thought my dreams of competing in the Olympics were gone," said Muffy Davis, 40, who in September, became a three-time gold medalist in the 2012 London Paralympic Games, despite a broken back she endured much earlier in her life that left her paralyzed.
"I had to change my thinking and focus on the fact that what happened to me meant a different life, not a loss of life," she said.
Since the age of 7, Davis' dream was to compete as an alpine ski racer in the Olympics. She was well on her way toward her dreams until a debilitating skiing accident in 1989, at the age of 16, left her with a broken back.
Years later, despite being paraplegic, she'd be on an Olympic podium getting three gold medals as a member of the U.S. Paralympics Hand Cycling team.
"I was in the rehabilitation hospital when someone told me there was such a thing as disabled athletes and the Paralympics," Davis said.
Davis went on to train as a member of the U.S. Paralympics Alpine Ski team.
She medaled but never reached gold. In 2002 she retired and got married. In 2008, she gave birth to a daughter and, while trying to get back into shape, began hand cycling.
Davis found that cycling and being out on the road were therapeutic.
The prospect of competing drew her in, and in 2010 she was back in the game, this time as part of the hand cycling team.
"There were all these twists and turns but in the end, I still reached the lifelong dreams I'd set as a little kid. I just accomplished them a little differently," Davis said. "I got my gold medals, I'm in the best shape I've ever been in today and I'm very blessed."
According to coaches Rick Babington and Mike Durner, Davis' story is similar to those of many members of the team, since each endured a sickness or accident that turned their lives upside down.
Steve Peace, a veteran who served 16 years in the Navy and retired as a lieutenant commander, was left partially paralyzed and unable to speak after a stroke.
"I got up to go to bed and had a bad stroke. Just like that, I couldn't walk, I couldn't speak; nothing. I lay there for 14 hours before somebody found me and from that point on, my whole life completely changed," Peace said, adding that it took six months for his speech to return.
Peace didn't want to just lay around and do nothing, so he got into cycling with the Wounded Warrior project, an organization that places injured veterans into various sports or activities.
"Initially, I started doing this to get out of the house, but now, I can't imagine not doing it," Peace said. "It's been a long process but you know what? I fall down and get back up."
Peace means that in the literal sense too, since he admits that he's fallen from his bike on several occasions, but gets right back up and onto the bike and out on the road again each time.
In fact, Peace stands out on the team as the only member who rides an imported English trike instead of a recumbent bike, which Are low-to-the-ground bikes which place riders in a reclining position.
Peace competed in the Paralympic games in September and said the entire experience was "unbelievable."
He said he's happy to still be representing his country.
David Randall, who served in the U.S. Navy as an operational specialist from 1993-1997, said he also hopes to experience that feeling by landing a spot on the national team and traveling to South America in 2016 for the next Paralympic games.
Randall suffers from a rare condition called Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which caused tumors on his spine that left him paralyzed. He did not make the 2012 games because he had to take 2011 off to have another operation.
"I just love it," he said.
Each member of the team, led by Durner and Babington, still has a long way to go. The group has just started training in South Lake. Members trained in Clearwater for two years before they visited Clermont and agreed to move and train here instead.
"The hills add some intensity to our training," Durner said. "The trails and roads here also make for a safer ride for our athletes. Compared to how 'dead flat' it was where we were, this is much better for us."
Babington said the terrain better matches what the cyclists may have to endure during the racing season.
"Not just anybody can do this," he said. "The members of this team really want to do this. These are people; athletes, who are doing what they were told they couldn't do. They're groundbreakers and they are proving all those statements wrong. They're told, "No, you can't,' and they'll say, 'Yes, I can.'"
For more information or to keep up with the team, visit www.ushf.org or www.teamusa.org and click on the link to the Paralympics team.