Friday morning, I woke up early to drive down to the Home Depot Center in Carson (home of the LA Galaxy) to watch my friend Matt Bigos race in the UCI Paracycling World Championships at the HDC Velodrome. You might remember Matt from a story I wrote on him in Men’s Fitness a few years back.
But if you don’t, a quick recap: In 2003, Matt, a former motocross racer and mechanic, was paralyzed in a car accident and told he would never walk again. Travis Pastrana was driving the car. The two developed an unlikely friendship that continues to this day.
Matt, of course, didn’t accept his lifetime sentence in a wheelchair. Instead, he fought like hell to move one toe, then walk, then run, then compete in triathlons, including Ironman tris. He is now a member of the U.S. Paracycling team and one of the most inspiring people I know. I say that knowing he absolutely hates when people say that.
This morning, in the pursuit, Matt finished 10th in the C1 division. (Paralympic athletes are divided based on their level of disability, from C1 – most disabled – to C5.) He’s a road cyclist, just recently started competing in track and said he went into the weekend worried he’s been overtraining. He hoped to finish 5th or 6th, so he was disappointed with 10th. But although he didn’t make it to the medal round, he was still impressive to watch. If you’ve ever seen track cycling, it’s scary for the able-plus bodied. Watching someone you know struggles to walk on solid ground race around that track is incredible. Watching the guys with one leg do it — unbelievable.
After his event, I hung out with Matt, his coach and a couple of his teammates. They told me stories about several of the athletes, each more compelling than the last. The field was filled with men and women coming to professional sports after losing an arm or leg–or both–while serving their countries in the war. There was Mark Colbourne, a former member of the British rugby team, who fell in a paragliding accident two years ago and suffered a spinal cord injury. He took second in qualifiers in Matt’s division. And the South African man racing Friday was able bodied until the husband of the woman he was, um, dating, used a baseball bat to break, among other things, his back.
Like I said, each story was more riveting than the next. And the most inspiring part of each of their stories was the moment when they picked themselves back up and got on a bike. A lesson for us all.