Hey Everyone! I have been following Mel’s blog since she started, so I know I don’t need to introduce myself. Mel and I thought it would be a cool idea to share about some exciting stuff I got to do over the past weekend.
From Thursday evening to Sunday at noon we hosted a paracycling camp in Moncton, and I must say it exceeded all of my expectations. The objective of this camp was to try and find existing or potential para cyclists and get them in one spot to learn more about the sport. Although I can’t take credit for pulling this all together, I can say it was my idea and I was able to help make this into a reality. Up until the weekend I was one of the only people actively road cycling and racing out of New Brunswick. Because of this I have been fending for myself, and not getting as much local support as I would if there was a larger group partaking in the activity. I also know how much I benefited from paracycling, where I was able to get back in shape and now it is a huge passion of mine, and I wanted to try and share my passion and see if there were others who might want to get involved. ***Mel here- I hope this is a future post as Matt’s story about how he got into paracycling and what it has done for him is REALLY powerful!!! ****
The event was put on in partnership between Parasport NB, Velo NB, and Cycling Canada. The parasport world is a bit complicated so I don’t need to get into all of the details, but what you need to know is that generally the provincial and national sport organizations are responsible for both able bodied and para athletes within their sport, and that is why Cycling Canada (NSO) and Velo NB (PSO) were excited to help with this. Parasport NB has a unique mandate in that it is responsible for helping/encouraging/supporting provincial sport organizations to develop parasport programs. We started planning the event back in February, and arranged for Guillaume Plourde, my coach out of Montreal (who is also responsible for paracycling development in eastern Canada) to make the trip to Moncton. Sally Hutt (executive director of Parasport NB) and Chris Foster (executive director of Velo NB) also made the trip from Fredericton to support, and were instrumental to pulling this together.
[Picture of Guillaume presenting during one of our classroom sessions during the camp]
Soon after we publicized the event, we surprisingly began getting a lot of interest, but were not sure if everyone would turn out. Our goal was a minimum of five participants, and no more than 10 as it can be difficult to manage too many people biking on the road, and we also needed to make sure we had equipment for everyone. In the end we had a group of 13 very keen riders with a wide variety conditions.
One of the reasons I love para cycling is that it is a very inclusive sport. Unlike other parasports that cater to specific types of impairments (e.g. wheelchair rugby requires impairment in 3 of 4 limbs), para cycling is a sport for everyone. At our camp we had quadriplegics, paraplegics, someone with spina bifida, a visually impaired rider and her able bodied friend who wanted to be her pilot, a few people with traumatic brain injuries or AVM that caused hemiplegia, and someone with muscular sclerosis. For the different conditions are different styles of bikes. For those who cannot walk or have weakness in their legs, there are handcycles. For those with stronger legs who are able to stand, they typically use a foot powered trikes which can be upright or recumbent. For visually impaired riders where motor impairments isn’t an issue, they ride on a tandem bike, with a sighted pilot on the front. Although we didn’t have any at our camp, there are also classes of para cyclists that use normal bikes, often with some sort of modification. These riders generally have some sort of upper body impairment or single leg impairment (e.g. amputation), where they still have adequate balance to ride a normal (ish) bike but fall into the realm of para sport.
[here are a couple of photos showing the variety of bikes we had at our camp. The left photo is of the tandem bike for our visually impaired rider and her pilot, and the right photo shows a handcycle, an upright trike, and a recumbent trike]
The camp started on Thursday night, which was dedicated to a quick intro to the sport, followed by getting everyone into bikes and having their gear adjusted. This was quite a process as it takes a lot of work to make sure everyone is setup properly. Everyone is so different and often the equipment isn’t perfect for the situation. In this case we were fortunate that quite a few people brought their own bikes. We were also fortunate to have Darrel from Tango Medical came out for the weekend to help. This guy is amazing and helped fix many problems that arose… we would have been short on equipment if he wasn’t there to make the fix on several occasions!
[Darrell Mullen fitting Veronica Coombs for a handcycle]
Darrell was also able to customize some adaptations to allow my buddy Pat (who I have known for a long time and Mel went to high school with) who is a quadriplegic, to safely brake. This was extremely exciting for me as it can often be difficult for quads to get into sport due to limitations with motor function and equipment (I can relate, being a quad myself 😊). Seeing Pat out on the road was certainly one of the highlights of my weekend. He was able to borrow the bike after the camp and has been getting out regularly with his wife Erin. I am looking forward to having a biking partner!
Another exciting moment of the weekend was seeing our tandem riders Celine and Charlotte do their first loop around a parking lot.
As is often the case at these types of events, I get to meet some very impressive people, and to say I was impressed with these two young ladies is an understatement. Celine has been visually impaired since she was 3 years old but you would have a hard time figuring this out. With 10% vision in one eye, and no vision in the other, it seems she has figured out how to navigate life with more grace than most fully sighted people. At 16 years old, she is planning her life in the same way any person does… which university to attend for engineering? where to work for the summer? Celine met Charlotte through Nordic skiing, when looking for a guide. They are now competitive skiers and striving to make the national team someday. They wanted to try out another sport to cross-train in the summer and thought cycling looked like a good option. You could tell they were athletes from the start, pulling out note pads during the first classroom session, soaking it all in. I am excited to follow where these two go… lots of potential and great attitudes will take them far.
Over the weekend we went from 35 degrees and sun on Friday to 5 degrees and rain on Saturday/Sunday. Despite the extreme weather changes people still showed up with smiles on to bike each day. All weekend we heard about the reasons people wanted to get into biking. In many cases it was about getting active and finding away to push themselves again. We also heard stories about parents who want to be able to get out biking with their kids. Regardless of the reasons, it became apparent that this camp was long overdue as sometimes people need a bit of a nudge or helping hand to get started. I hope this is just the start of more good things to come. All indications are that paracycling has a strong future in New Brunswick.
[Marc Moussette is a father of two young kids and excited to be able to get out biking with his family. Shown here trying out his dream bike.]
[Martin Bernard and Bernard Lapoint finally getting a chance to get out biking on Friday]
Mel here- thanks babe for writing this up for the blog. It is such an important topic to get out there so that more people become aware of these types of opportunities.
I’m so proud of Matt for putting this together, since as you can see, so many people were able to try out a different activity that can help change their lives or at least ADD to their lives. I hope he is able to continue this camp annually, or as often as he can, to continue providing opportunities like this for people.
And how well spoken is he? (yes, I’m biased)
Ok, that’s it for today folks!