Remember this article next time you think to yourself "I don't feel like riding today". Thanks to Brian for the inspirational story!
The Ride of a Lifetime
Anyone who's ever told you, "It's as easy as riding a bike," forgot just how difficult it was to learn how to ride a bike. Speaking for myself, I fell. I fell a lot. Each time I lost my balance and kissed the pavement or knuckle-busted a curb, my father would pick me up and say, "You're gonna fall. Now get back on the bike." This was a pretty big lesson in a little guy’s life. That last time my dad let go, magic happened. I balanced naturally and smoothly as my bike cruised in a not-so-straight line down the road. Then I fell again - got back on the bike - and soared.
I never stopped riding after that summer’s day. Crashes and spills would come and go, as did the cuts, scrapes, and bruises. At 8 years old I graduated to a Huffy dirt bike, followed by a Ross Piranha freestyler, and finally a much more mature Schwinn mountain bike. I rode my bike to school, to work, to my friends’ homes. I rode for fun, for transportation, and in a few situations, for dear life (out-pedaled the local bullies).
My new mountain bike never got a chance to see a lot of gravel thanks to what became the biggest fall of my life. This time, I wasn’t even on the bike. Instead I was performing a back flip in gymnastics where rather than landing on my feet, I landed directly on my head. Consequently, I broke my neck. The doctors informed my parents that I would never walk again. My days of pedaling a bike would be replaced by pushing a wheelchair.
A few years after the paralyzing accident, I found the most interesting pedaled contraption I had ever seen. It was a 3-wheeled, arm-propelled "handcycle" with a nice big seat. After gaining approval for a test spin, I transferred onto it, grasped the “hand pedals” tightly, and began to crank. My speed increased from the usual wheelchair speed of 2mph, to a wind-burning 10mph. There I was, sailing down the road in a not-so-straight line. I was alive - back on the bike - and soaring.
Handcycling became a leisurely pursuit for me back then. Over the course of the next 2 decades I participated in host of cycling events across the country. I rode with former Lion’s player Mike Utley in his DAM2DAM event in Washington and I even rode with Greg LeMond in a local cycling challenge (he had choice words for Lance Armstrong - made me think he was just jealous). In 20 years I went through 4 different handcycles along with cracked frames, broken chains, hard falls and lots of losing. I loved it.
During the winter of 2013, I realized I wanted more. I bought a Top End Force RX racing handcycle, a Cyclops Fluid 2 trainer, and with the bike facing a snow-filled backyard, I began to train. On the bike before work at 6 am, all I knew how to do was push myself…so I did. I was sweating in the mornings and studying cycling in the evenings. I had 3 different heart rate monitors and a basement full of tools and bike gear. I trained and I trained and I trained some more. When the spring finally arrived, I wanted to be more than just back on the bike...I wanted to win.
Once the snow thawed, I made my way down Main St. to Kinetic Systems. Armed with a bevy of questions and hopeful they wouldn't send me to a medical equipment store, I sat with Jeff and began my interrogation. He had an answer for everything about cycling. Regarding tuning and tweaking my handcycle he simply said, "It's just an upside down bike!” Jeff would soon invite me to train at the Waterford Track, giving me tips and tricks to efficient propulsion. Before I knew it, I was a flying like a rhino.
My first real handcycling competition arrived in the spring of 2014 and proved all the hard work was paying off. I set a course record for my division that day and took third place overall. From there, my cycling journey became a whirlwind of camps and competitions. In 2015, I stood (seated) atop the podium as National Champion in both the RR and TT for Men’s H2.
In the blink of an eye, I was donning the red, white, and blue for Team USA, competing in World Cups in Italy and Switzerland, then back to Switzerland again for World Championships. Planes, trains, buses and vans led to pits, paths, courses, and crashes (complete with a cracked helmet and stitches). I was on the road competing for the entire summer of 2015, culminating on the world’s stage in Toronto, Canada, August 13th…
After 40 years of cranking away on the road of life, I found myself at the Time Trial starting gate at the 2015 Toronto Parapan Am Games. The team mechanic steadied my wheels as my soigneur sprayed one last stream of water into my mouth. “Brian Sheridan, United States of America,” blasted over the PA and an overwhelming sense of pride filled my body. I gripped the handpedals and remembered my journey to this moment. Deep breath…3…2…1…
When I crossed the finish line, I could barely breathe. I was dry heaving and shaking, with my heart pounding out of my chest and into my hands. The cheer from the crowd was so loud that I could barely hear the announcer proclaiming (with a French accent), “Brian Sheridan! United States of America! Gold!”
“You’ve won! Where did you find your inspiration?” a member of the press asked. I barely had a single breath to spare. “The bottom,” I responded.
We all start at the bottom, after all - that’s how we become who we are. Learning how to ride a bike is learning how to live a successful life: 1) Potholes and pitfalls are commonplace – roll with it. 2) You can’t do it alone and it won’t be much fun if you do. 3) It’s about the journey, not the destination. 4) Most importantly, falling is life’s greatest lesson for those brave enough to do one thing…Get Back On The Bike.