The other day I was out for a bike ride... and as I tooled along River Drive in Devon a.k.a. BikeTown Alberta, I saw the coolest looking bike. It was low and sleek, a fabulous color, two wheels in the back, one in the front. The sun was in my eyes as I was riding just before sunset & heading into the sun.
As I approached the bike, I realized it was even better than I thought. It had a hand crank and the person driving this amazing unit was kicked back on this ultra cool set of wheels. As I pulled up alongside the rider, I said hello and was delighted to strike up a conversation with the rider. I asked if she was from Devon and she let me know she was from Edmonton and that she was out taking a ride around the race course to prepare for a competition on the coming Monday, labor day weekend.
I must have rode with her for about 10 minutes before she told me it was a paralympic race. That's when she took me to school. I hadn't realized she was paralyzed and, in fact, she told me that many people discover this in the same manner. They're at first struck by the awesome design of the bike and how cool it is, but after they get over the amazing sleek style and cool design, they come to realize this is a bicycle for paralyzed people.
She was gracious enough to provide me with a racing class education and told me about her own class, she's a quadriplegic. She has lost some arm use and wrist use, so there is a classification for her. I was surprised at this because I had always thought that a quadriplegic was entirely paralyzed from the neck down. But that's not the case. There are different levels of paralysis. Not only was all of this fascinating, it also seems very inclusive to create numerous classes.
I was struck by other things, for example, she has been in a chair for 20 years and she's learned that a huge difference between wheelchairs and bicycles is the accessibility factor of gears. "You can gear up or gear down", bicycles for paralyzed people offer people the chance to motor along at the pace that's comfortable for them. Wheelchairs, on the other hand, are not geared like bicycles. She pointed out that bicycles offered her and many others like her a more accessible medium.
After cruising around the race course several times with my new friend, I asked her if she'd consider granting an interview to our local reporter and she gladly agreed. You might say I've become her fan club in Devon, and I intend to be out there on Monday to cheer her along. I've even met her husband and I'll be looking forward to seeing him on Monday too. They're quality people!
Her story is uplifting and it's a story that needs to be told. Others who might hear it and might learn about this inclusive sport. Accessibility in a community is important because it benefits everybody. Accessibility in sport is also important, and again, it benefits everybody. She offered me a poignant thought... none of us know when we are going to join this club. Membership is unannounced, it is permanent, and it comes with substantial challenges.
To see her tooling along on River Drive was an awesome sight. It provided an entirely new perspective why BikeTown, as an initiative, is important for everybody. Join us on Sunday and Monday for a great series of races as the 2011 Alberta Youth and Paralympic Road and Track Cycling Championships come to BikeTown!