Events like the Adaptive Mountain Biking World Championships in Color., are helping prove that off-road mountain biking is no longer limited
By Christopher Di Virgilio
For many adaptive cyclists, the prospect of hitting a mountain trail has always been met with many challenges, especially if they’re looking to ride with able-bodied riders. However, thanks to organizations like Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte, Colo., adaptive off-road cycling is taking root.
The organization hosted the Adaptive Mountain Biking World Championships in August, and participation was up for the fifth straight year. This year, more than 20 adaptive cyclists gathered to test their merit against the rocky terrain, thin mountain air and fellow athletes for a chance to claim the winning title.
There’s nothing easy about this three-day event, but that doesn’t discourage participants from grinding up a 10,000-foot mountain trail in the hopes of coming out on top. And while that title is more about bragging rights than any substantial championship status, the riders go all-in for events such as the hill climb race, obstacle course and cross-country race.
The event kicks off with the hill climb race, where participants are staged at the base of Mount Crested Butte on the Silver Queen service road.
They crank their way over a 2.5-mile swath of “baby heads” (softball-sized rocks), water bars and loose gravel paths. It’s a grueling ascent, and while some of the higher-level injured athletes have the benefit of a motor-assist bike, for many, it’s all grit.
“It’s pretty brutal and definitely tests the strength and endurance of the riders,” says Adaptive Sports Center Program Coordinator Rob Guenther. “The event initially started as a big gathering and not so much race-focused, but rather an adventure riding event. It has since evolved into the one and only off-road handcycle race in the country.”
While the electric-assist riders made the climb in relatively easy fashion, the manual riders were busy hammering out the windy path to the top of the mountain. Along the way, U.S. Army veteran and Paralyzed Veterans of America Racing team member Seth Arseneau was visibly struggling to maintain a steady pace. His agonized expression was testament of his resolve to the spectators cheering him along.
“I’ve done this race and this event and type of stuff so many times that I just know it’s going to be a lot of suffering,” says Arseneau, who sustained a spinal-cord injury (SCI) after a motorcycle accident. “If you do have a motor, it’s going to be a little bit less suffering. The suffering is going to end a lot faster. It’s tough terrain.”
The Albuquerque, N.M., native is one of the more seasoned riders to take on this event each year and despite the “suffering,” he always comes back for more.
But like Arseneau, the athletes all agreed it’s more than a biking event. It’s a time to come together to heal and be with good friends.
“You see your teammates maybe once or twice a year, so it’s kind of fun meeting up,” says Arseneau, who won the Men’s A manual division. “It’s almost like you’re going on vacation with old friends. For a lot of people, myself included, that’s the enjoyment for the racing part. A lot of these things take place at races, but the reason people do it is not because they’re trying to win races or win medals or trophies or anything like that. It’s just fun to have a group of friends to hang out with, laughing and joking the whole time and outdoors enjoying beautiful days and crazy places around the country.”
For more information, visit adaptivesports.org.