May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Scott Sweet finds fitness from the sport of handcycling, not just in May but all year long
In 2005, Scott Sweet was injured in a fall that severed his spinal cord at T8.
Prior to his injury, Sweet rode mountain bikes some, off and on, but he never raced or trained in cycling. His local VA’s recreational therapists introduced him to the handcycle.
“Some of my friends were riding,” Sweet says, “so I gave it a try. It was the first thing I found that I could go all out on, to be really competing without my paralysis being a limiting factor.”
He began regularly handcycling after completing rehab.
“I never got serious with it until August 2009, when I began preparing for the ING Miami Marathon and the Melbourne Music Marathon,” Sweet recalls. “For me, handcycling is the best way to compete outside of my disability. I can put a fit, able-bodied person in a handcycle, and we could compete at exactly the same level.”
It’s fast and a little scary as well, which Sweet digs. But it’s not all competition. Sweet cycles every Saturday, for himself.
“I am fortunate that I have a large group of friends who live locally that I can ride with just about every weekend,” he explains. “It’s a fun ride with some friendly competition mixed in, and we are always looking for new riders to bring in. These weekend rides have made me not only faster but a more technical group cyclist.”
Sweet says the hardest part is in starting.
“When you do,” he advises, “find a way to make it fun first, and never get away from that. Training can take away some of that fun, so don’t let it all be training. Get out at least once a week and have fun with it.”
According to Sweet, handcycling involves several challenges, depending on your desires and how far you want to go with it:
• It is sometimes difficult to acquire a handcycle — but not impossible. Many organizations can help.
• Training and finding safe places and time to do it can be challenges as well, but again, not insurmountable.
• The last challenge is related to competition. Traveling involves expenses: cost of travel, lodging, and race-registration fees. Sweet says the money is available; you just have to find it.
When Sweet began training, he used Carlos Moleda’s 26-week marathon preparation workout. It was so successful that Sweet met military standards last year and qualified for a training stipend from a joint US Olympic Committee/VA project. He can now afford a coach, thanks to this stipend. He obtains his equipment from VA, and PVA Racing helps with the majority of racing expenses.
Traveling to various events is a challenge due to work and school and family, but Sweet says it has its rewards. One of the biggest is that the sport changed his life.
“The most rewarding element of handcycling, other than seeing myself get faster, is helping someone else find the enjoyment that I have found,” Sweet says. “It changed my life from being a couch potato with no real direction to a very active and energetic and goal-focused person. I find great reward in helping others find these elements of handcycling.”
Sponsored by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition (fitness.gov/resources/toolkit/index.html), National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to start finding the benefits of physical activity.
Becoming active increases your chances of living longer and can help you:
- Control your blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight
- Raise your “good” cholesterol
- Prevent heart disease, colorectal cancer, and type 2 diabetes
For more information about PVA Racing, visit pva.org.