Finding a challenge in competitions

©Barry Sandland/TIMB - Para-cyclist with spasticity climbing hills in Brussels

©Barry Sandland/TIMB – Various races across Belgium offer distances that suit the individual.

“I used to participate in competition a long time ago. At that time, we only had a choice of the 1,500 and 3,000 metres and this was very short and intensive. These efforts increase my spasticity, so I had to stop. But I found other challenges. I have participated 11 times in the tour around Brussels – 100 kilometres in one day. I have already done the ’20k Of Brussels’ with wheelchair athletes five or six times. We start 15 minutes before the elite runners and I try and finish before the first runners. Two or three times I have managed to arrive before the first runner. And this year, only the first runner could catch me.”

Photographer’s notes: If you are looking for speed, then this is about 19kph to stay ahead of the world’s best runners. For a lot of everyday cyclists, this would be a push.

The para-cyclists head off about 15 minutes ahead of the lead runners and the leaders in this division will cross the line far faster than the runners. Some of the hand-powered bikes are blistering pieces of speed. Race wheelchairs, with their extended single front wheel, are not far behind.

The idea of para-cyclists handicapped for a variety of reasons should be a commonplace idea for most people today. But I was still surprised at the 100km rides in one day.

It also raises the idea of then limits imposed on the distances. There was a time when women were refused entry into marathon distance races, the distance begin considered too difficult for their physique. I would likely have to find myself in the modern-day version of that preconception, thinking anything over 5,000 metres might be a too severe a distance for some para-cyclists.

Once again, I manage to be proven wrong. Sometimes that is delightful.



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