I was nine years old when I decided I wanted to be a professional mountain bike racer and travel the world to race my bike along root-filled dirt paths between patches of forests, hills and switchbacks. That is, I did until I was 11.
I was born with a posteromedial bow of the tibia and a calcaneal valgus foot. Basically from below my right knee, my leg was sort of bent and twisted. I learned to adapt as an infant and my leg was never a deterrent. At the age of four, I had a wedge of bone removed to complete the natural straightening that had occurred with my tibia. The straightening of my tibia left my right leg a few inches shorter than my left. Again, I didn't let it stop me, doing things the "normal" kids did, being involved in sport, and dreaming of racing bikes. That changed when I turned 11 years old and had a limb-lengthening surgery -- a "stretcher" device attached to my surgically-broken right leg to stretch it over what was supposed to be three months and allow the bone to grow together lengthening my leg -- that didn't quite go as planned. I was devastated. Especially since I had started also road racing and been surprised by my parents with a new road bike that they ended up having to sell once we all released I'd be on crutches and dealing with surgeries much longer than the original three months. I spent the next several years on crutches and endured multiple procedures and surgeries to try to correct the complications. I had to re-learn how to walk. In the end, I’m left with the muscle atrophy, bone-on-bone at the ankle, low ankle flexion, low bone density, knee pain, hip pain, foot pain, scarring, and my legs are still off about an inch or so.
Clipping Back In
Some days are worse than others, but I refuse to let my leg stop me, refuse to be limited. No, I can't run anymore thanks to my basically-fused ankle. Now, however, I am living my nine-year-old dream. Just a different avenue, as a paracyclist. In the last four years, since discovering paracycling while racing "ablebody" bike races and working for a race promoter in Florida, I've traveled to Spain, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil, Belgium, and South Africa. All to race my bike! And while I have accolades to show for it -- two Paralympic bronze medals (2016), a world championship jersey (2017, medals from Parapan Am Games (2015), a handful world championship medals on the road and track, several national championship jerseys, a paracycling world cup series overall title (2017), and multiple world cup podiums -- the biggest take aways are learning that I can turn dark into light, accomplish goals that I work hard for, love life even through the adversity, and be proud of the person I am today. The people I have met and relationships that have developed throughout the journey also makes it even more rewarding.
(Second Photo Credit: Catella)