Posted: Friday, August 3, 2012 6:00 am | Updated: 11:31 pm, Thu Aug 2, 2012.
By JOHN MATUSZAK – H-P Staff Writer | 1 comment
ST. JOSEPH – The cyclists dotted the parking lot, pumping tires, loosening muscles, eager, anxious, all with the same goal in mind: to complete the four-day, 300-mile ride from St. Joseph to Ann Arbor.
It didn’t matter that some of them are paralyzed or are amputees or are visually impaired. They were all ready to go.
“We’re no different than anyone else,” said cyclist Adam Rose about the Great Lakes Independence Ride, or IRIDE, which set off Thursday morning from Disability Network Southwest Michigan’s St. Joseph office. “Anyone with a disability is capable of doing anything. If someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me want to do it more. I don’t let anything stop me.”
Rose, 18, is paralyzed from the waist down, the result of a spinal cord injury from a bad reaction to chemotherapy for leukemia when he was 4. He is one of the veteran participants in the sixth annual IRIDE, having ridden three times before with his hand cycle. He started hand cycling when he was 7 and entered his first competitive race at 12.
Glen Ashlock, director of sports and recreation programs at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living, said Rose is one of the fastest hand cyclists in Michigan and has his sights set on competing in the Paralympics in four years.
Rose, a Shelby Township resident, will be taking part in the IRIDE with his parents, Don and Lori. In other rides, one of the parents would have to be driving a van carrying Adam’s wheelchair instead of riding beside him.
“We can all do it together. It’s fantastic,” said Don Rose.
A rare ride
That’s what makes the IRIDE special, explained Ashlock, 51, whose legs were paralyzed when he was 25 following an attack of polio while he was a Peace Corps volunteer.
There are rides for disabled athletes and rides for the able-bodied, but few for both, said Ashlock, who often rides with his wife and children. IRIDE, started by the Ann Arbor center staff in 2007, is the state’s first and only multi-day cycling event that is inclusive.
Making the ride inclusive includes providing a van to carry the wheelchairs and walkers needed by riders and making sure that rest stops and overnight accommodations are accessible, Ashlock said.
Other than that, the riders will be relying on their own strength of body and character, as well as each other, to complete all or part of the route.
Ashlock will be riding a 27-speed hand cycle. Others will be using recumbent bikes. At least two who are visually impaired will be riding tandem bikes with a partner. One also has cerebral palsy but has not let her visual or motor impairments keep her off the road.
The ride is a major confidence builder for the riders. And seeing these riders is an inspiration for their fellow riders and the people they meet along the way, Ashlock said.
One of the goals of the event, he noted, is to dispel the misconception that people with disabilities are less capable. By witnessing their achievements, Ashlock hopes that someone might be persuaded to hire a person with a disability – or to get more exercise themselves.
Ashlock had been a bike rider all of his life, before the polio struck.
“I thought my riding days were over,” he said, before he learned about hand cycling. “It changed my outlook. It literally changed my life back.”
In addition to competitive cycling, he competes internationally in wheelchair basketball, and in 2010 was inducted into the Michigan Athletes with Disabilities Hall of Fame.
Olympian takes part
The cyclists have a true Olympian in their midst. Mary Stack, sports coordinator at the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living and the coordinator of the race, will be competing in the Paralympics in London at the end of the month as a power lifter.
Stack was born with a rare condition that left her with shortened bones.
Despite her disabilities, she began power lifting 20 years ago and has competed in Beijing, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, setting records along the way. London will be her fourth Paralympics.
There is a sense of community among the IRIDE athletes, Stack said. “People come back year after year. It’s like a reunion.”
The cycling event also is a fundraiser for Disability Network/Michigan and Centers for Independent Living across the state, including Disability Network Southwest Michigan.
Fundraising is especially urgent for the Ann Arbor contingent this year. In March their trailer and $30,000 in equipment used for IRIDE and other sports programs was stolen.
Ann Arbor-area residents responded with donations that helped replace some of the equipment, Ashlock said, and contributions came in from as far away as Florida.
“I love seeing the people out here and being active, and seeing the families together,” said Joanne Johnson, community education director for Disability Network Southwest Michigan’s St. Joseph office.
This is the second year in a row that the race has started from St. Joseph. The first leg was to take the riders through Sodus to Paw Paw.
The cyclists, dressed in bright yellow jerseys, received last-minute safety instructions from Ashlock and posed for a group photo before starting, shouting out their rallying cry:
“Who rides? I ride!”