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Incredible Athletes

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This time of year brings an incredible group of athletes to North Central Washington, but it is not likely that you have ever heard of them by name. To get an idea of what they do, you would have to spend a day or two in a wheelchair. Seriously, you should try it some time, maybe for just a few hours. Try to go without using your legs for an entire day if you really want to know what it takes to get from point A to point B by using your arms alone. Then imagine powering yourself from Lincoln Rock Park to Rocky Reach Dam, across the river, up over Navarre Coulee, through Chelan, up to Wells Dam, and back to Lincoln Rock on a bicycle built for arms. That is just what some of the wheelchair athletes riding the Dam2Dam did this weekend!

Dam2Dam is a fundraising ride created by Mike Utley and his foundation for spinal cord research. The event offers rides of 25, 50 and 100 miles for riders of all abilities, but it has special attraction for cyclists who have lost the use of their legs and use “handcycles” to power themselves along. Some traveled all the way from Colorado to do this ride! Instead of cranking it over with legs, these cyclists use arms and shoulders. It is amazing to watch them rip out the revolutions!

Consider this the next time you use those powerful buttock and leg muscles to power your bike. Imagine that shoulders and arms were all you had. Then load the lower half of your body onto your bike like a suitcase, and strike out for 25 to 100 miles! Riding a regular bike along with these athletes this weekend was a humbling experience!

Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) is a devastating event that strikes 11,000 people per year. Most (47%) are caused by Motor vehicle accidents, but 9% are now caused by sporting accidents. Each injury hits the victim like a tornado. Most victims are young, healthy and in the prime of life. For that family nothing will ever be the same. However, tornados pass and life goes on. Families rebuild. This weekend we witnessed how the sport of cycling can rebuild lives for people with SCI. Riding along beside these athletes, I was struck by the consistent presence of a friend or family member riding “support”, and I realized that together, they made a special kind of “cycling team”.

Most of us have friends who have sustained spinal injury. Just a month ago, another aquaintance of mine became Paraplegic after a climbing accident. She is now at the Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado and glad to be there. Craig Hospital has been ranked in the top ten of Rehab Hospitals every year for the past 19 years. One of the goals for patients at Craig is to get well enough to travel to Wenatchee and take part in Mike Utley’s ride! When you can learn to ride a bike again after becoming paralyzed, you get to reclaim a large part of life. It may be a handcycle, but it gives you a sport, a way to “get out”. You can compete against others, or more importantly against yourself. It is a challenge you can meet, with achievable goals. There were staff and riders from the Craig Hospital who showed up here in Wenatchee as a team; complete with cycling jerseys and support! The connection? Mike Utley did his rehab at Craig Hospital. He even set up the “Mike Utley Terrain Park” to challenge patients in their recovery at the hospital.

Another rider doing Dam2Dam was our own Michael Hansen, just recently free of his Halo Brace. Michael was miraculously spared spinal cord damage, but had a serious spinal injury nonetheless. He borrowed a recumbent bike from Go Bent Bikes and rode for 25 miles for the first time in months! It was a different kind of bike for Michael, but he was out there just the same. In fact, all of the riders out on Saturday were different. Many had challenges that most of us can only imagine. The remarkable thing they all had in common was riding a bike back into some kind of normalcy in life. That is a good thing!

by: Ed Farrar –

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