Feature Writer Romeo Edmead – Who Needs Hands to Ride a Bike?

When Damian Lopez Alfonso was just 13, he was obsessed with kites. Today, he still brags that he was the best at locating kites amongst his friends. Although that hobby was abruptly curtailed, he eventually picked up another activity where he also excelled. The transition was anything but seamless, though, and Mr. Alfonso is actually lucky to be alive. One day when he and a friend attempted to retrieve a kite with a catchy drawing, he received the shock of a lifetime.
The kite was caught in the power lines above a building, and the boys decided to remove it with the aid of a metal rod. As they approached, Mr. Alfonso’s companion got cold feet and tried discouraging him, too. Unfortunately, valor won over discretion that day, and he took charge. When the rod and power lines touched, he was electrocuted and received severe burns to his arms, face, and torso. He was hospitalized for the next year, and today he lives with no forearms and a disfigured face.
Twenty-one-years later, Mr. Alfonso’s new love is bike racing, and he aspires to compete in international Olympic competition. With no forearms, he is still able to balance, steer, and travel at tremendous speed, using his elbows to press the brakes and shift gears. He has already been victorious in several local tournaments in his native Cuba, racing against able bodied cyclists. Olympic competition is another story though, because according to Olympic standards his bike is illegally assembled. In order to operate his brakes and gears, his handle bars must be turned upside down so they can be closer to him.
Mr. Alfonso’s determination has touched many people, and they have joined his campaign in a major way. Complete strangers have donated money for him to travel to New York for doctor’s visits, and doctors are trying to fit him with prosthetic arms free of charge. If they find something that works, Mr. Alfonso may be competing in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. He is registered to compete in Canada next month, which is one of the qualifiers he needs to be eligible for next year’s games. In the meantime, he tried some prosthetic arms during a ride in New York’s Central Park earlier this month. He quickly became frustrated, and was quoted in a New York Times article saying, “I’ve ridden my whole life the other way, and now I can’t brake. I don’t know why I need this. Why do they have this stupid rule?”
What are your thoughts about Mr. Alfonso’s situation? Do you think the Olympic rules are exclusionary for riders who, in this case, are perfectly capable of riding at a high level with only simple, non-performance enhancing bike modifications?
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/12/nyregion/cyclists-embrace-a-handless-cuban-who-wants-to-race.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1309143609-xK/ci3Kvpb1%206V7m0kh/Wg

Comments are closed.