It occurred to me today that people may not know exactly what Paracycling is. What distinguishes it from 'regular' cycling - and what kind of disabilities to people in the sport have?
This pic - taken at a recent training camp, sums up a lot of what Paracycling entails:
In the back there is the female tandem of Catherine Walsh and Fran Meehan. Catherine - who sits ont he back is visually impaired. She is called the 'stoker'. Fran is called the 'pilot' and controls the steering, brakes, gears, etc. They are one of the best female pairings in the world - and had they not broken a chain at the last World Championships, most likely would have ended up on the podium. Tandems compete both on the road and track.
On the right is Mark Rohan on his handcycle. Mark is normally in a wheelchair - but this is how he cycles. And Mark is the current World Champion in his division. Handcyclists only compete in road events.
Then there's me on the left. There are 5 different 'levels' of disability for solo bikes ranging from quite basic (like a missing arm or hand) to the more severe (combination of missing arms/leg). Cyclists with cerebral palsey also fall into these classes, depending on the extent of their disability. Like the tandems, solo bikes compete in both road and track events.
Lastly - there is a class for cyclists that suffer very badly from CP - and lack the balance to ride a solo bike unaided - so they ride on giant tricycles. (Don't laugh!) Basically modified road bikes with extra wheels added so they can't fall over. But they still get some speed on them!
As disability sport goes, cyclists (in my humble opinion) are some of the best athletes. In many cases, they are as good, if not better than 'able-bodied' athletes. For example - Jody Cundy who competes on the track and is missing a leg, has a sprint times that would make him world class if he had two good legs. If he wasn't British and didn't have to fight for a spot against the likes of CHris Hoy, could probably compete for the Olympic sqaud! And the female cyclist Sarah Storey will be looking to compete in BOTH the Olympics and Paralympics in London. I have competed against former stage winners in the Tour de France in this sport - and have lost badly!
Due to my injuries, I am in a high disability class (C2 out of 5 - with C1 being the most disabled) and yet, am one of the better time trialists in my cycling club. If you saw me out on the road, you probably wouldn't know anything was 'wrong' with me. I'll never win the Tour, but I can usually hold my own on the road!
Lastly - I would like to point out the difference between the Paralympics and the Special Olympics. First and foremost - the Paralympics is about winning medals and competing at an Elite level. It deals with athletes that have suffered some sort of injury or have a physical disability. The Special Olympics is geared towards those with learning disabilities - and is more about participation than winning. Both a valid organizations, but we (Paralympians) are all about kicking the crap out of our competition!