It’s been an addiction since she tried it in New York City one year after the car accident.
Melinda Baker, 39, of Bushnell, Fla., decided she didn’t want to sit on the couch and do nothing, so she took up handcycling. After her first race, the New York City Marathon, she said she was hooked.
“I lost my leg at 35 and suffered a brain injury and an incomplete spinal cord injury,” Baker said of the accident.
Her injury did not stop her, it made her want to show others what that they could accomplish, one step at a time. She said she thinks it inspires the runners, as well as others with disabilities, that if she can power a cycle with just her arms, they can run the 26.2 miles.
Baker competes in about 12 marathons per year, so to prepare for them, she rides about 100 miles per week with her mother, Anne Baker, who doubles as her training partner. Besides riding, the team cross-trains by doing water aerobics for an hour per day, four days per week.
“It’s awesome to have a training partner,” Melinda Baker said.
The Bakers said they help motivate each other when they are having hard days.
“She definitely inspires me,” Anne Baker said. “I don’t worry about my arthritis and sore bones when I watch her.”
For her daughter to be able to go out and do something like handcycling after her accident, it shows people they really can do anything, Anne Baker said.
Melinda Baker lost 120 pounds after she started handcycling and her mom lost 60 pounds, another benefit of staying active.
“We’re just … a team,” said Melinda Baker.
In the winter, they train in Bushnell, and in the summer they train in Elburn, Ill., where they are originally from.
Melinda Baker travels to marathons nationwide to race and this is her second time racing in the Myrtle Beach Marathon. She plans on coming back next year because it is one of the most organized marathons, she said.
Baker said she loves the Grand Strand event because the course is fast, fun and challenging, and because the organizers are very friendly to athletes with disabilities.
Baker is a member of the Achilles Track Club, an organization that was started 25 years ago for people with disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics. In addition to handcycling, Baker is also part of a 12-person outrigger canoe racing team. She will be competing in the 13th International Va’a Federation Outrigger Canoe World Championship in August in Sacramento, Calif.
“My goal is to spread the word that just because you are paralyzed doesn’t mean you can’t compete,” Baker said.
By Megan Duvall