Turn off the phones and hide the video game controllers the weekend of April 17-18 in Huntsville! You have a prime opportunity to show your children they can do anything, even if the odds are stacked against them. More than 100 athletes will travel to Huntsville to compete in the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Cummings Research Park. These are not just any athletes – they are Para athletes working to make Team USA, to go on to compete in the Summer Paralympics this August in Tokyo.
Why Kids Should Go to the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville
Some of the athletes you will see were born with a disability, and others suffered a debilitating injury during their lifetime, such as a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck. Many are veterans who sustained an injury in war. That didn’t stop them – they are competitive beyond belief.
This is their return to competition following COVID. You will see four types of races:
- Handcycling (recumbent and kneeling)
- Tandem Cycling
It’s free and outdoors.
No tickets are needed – the event is free. It’s outdoors along Explorer Boulevard, which loops around Cummings Research Park. Many businesses in CRP have offered their parking lots that weekend to spectators, so you can park just next to the course and walk over to the grass. Bring a blanket, chairs, and cooler and make a day of it! Even better, both days – Saturday and Sunday.
Refer to this Spectator Guide for important information on road closures and this map for parking. The races start and finish in front of Columbia High School, but please note that specific area will be closed to spectators due to racer safety, including COVID protocols.
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The Paralympics is the third largest sporting event in the world, and the first for driving social inclusion. Held just a few weeks after the Olympics in the same host city and venues, the term ‘Para’ means in parallel to the Olympics. The Paralympics Games feature elite level athletes with range of disabilities, primarily physical.
When kids see people of every ability perform in the sports arena is does a lot to foster the belief that we are all just people, put here to encourage and take care of each other. A fun way to get the kids even more involved is to make some homemade signs cheering on the athletes!
It’s exciting to watch!
Many of these athletes have won gold, silver, and bronze medals in past Paralympic Games. Here are a few to watch who are scheduled to come to Huntsville – and we have an Alabama athlete in the mix!
Meet the Athletes
Oz Sanchez is an H5 road cyclist and competes in the time trial and road race events. He is one of the top handcyclists in the world as a three-time Paralympian (2008, 2012, 2016) and a six-time Paralympic medalist (2 golds, 1 silvers, 3 bronzes). Sanchez grew up in Los Angeles and spent six years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He became a part of the Special Forces unit, deploying twice to the Middle East. In 2001, while in the process of transferring to the Navy to become a Navy SEAL, Sanchez was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured his spinal cord. He started handcycling competitively five years after the accident. His story is featured in the 2009 documentary Unbeaten. His hobbies include reading, working out, cycling, swimming, shooting and skydiving.
Jennifer Schuble competes in four events, including time trial, road race, pursuit and team sprint. A current resident of Homewood, Alabama, Schuble is a three-time Paralympian (2008, 2012, 2016) and five-time Paralympic medalist (1 gold, 3 silvers, 1 bronze) competing in the C5 classification. While attending the United States Military Academy at West Point to become a commissions officer, Schuble was a varsity athlete in three separate sports. During hand-to-hand combat class, she sustained a traumatic brain injury. She sustained an additional TBI later in a car wreck, and in 2004, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This led her to the Lakeshore Foundation, a Paralympic training site in Birmingham, Alabama, where she was encouraged to get into cycling and started in 2007. In 2008, she won a gold medal and set a world record in the 500-meter time trial at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008. She was the first female in the world to compete in team sprint as Team USA was only country to do it. At London 2012, she was the first woman to medal as a part of team sprint. She works as an engineer and enjoys cycling, triathlons and playing with her bulldog, Sherman.
Oksana Masters competes in three sports: biathlon, cross country skiing, and road cycling. She is a four-time Paralympian (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018) and eight-time Paralympic medalist (2 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze). Masters was born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident. She was born with six toes on each foot, five webbed fingers on each hand and no thumbs. Her left leg was six inches shorter than her right and both were missing weight-bearing bones, and she was diagnosed with Tibia Hemimilla. After living in three orphanages, she was adopted at the age of seven. Over the course of seven years, she would have both legs amputated. At age 13, she began rowing. In 2011, she met her rowing partner Rob Jones, and in 2012 brought home a bronze medal from the Paralympic Games London 2012. She began skiing immediately after, training for 14 months leading up to the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. She would leave Russia with a silver and bronze medal. Due to a back injury after Sochi, she took up cycling as a recovery process and to help maintain her fitness. She qualified for the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and finished just off the podium, fourth, in the road race. Just recently, Masters earned six gold medals at the Para Nordic World Cup which puts her total gold medal count at 50 for her skiing career. Masters lists her mom, Gay Masters, as her personal hero.
Ryan Boyle competes in the time trial and road race events for the road cycling T2 class. Boyle competed in his first Paralympic Games in 2016 where he won silver in the road time trial in Rio. In October of 2003, Boyle acquired a traumatic brain injury while riding a Big Wheel where he was hit and dragged by a pick-up truck causing him to immediately go into a coma. Emergency brain surgery was performed to save Boyle’s life, but he lost a portion of the back of his brain. At the age of 10, he had to learn to how to breath, swallow, talk, eat, stand, sit and walk all over again. Boyle wrote his own book titled, “When the Lights go Out: A Boy Given a Second Chance,” when he was a freshman in high school. He is a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and attended the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs. Boyle is the founding president of the St. Joseph High School Car Club and he also managed the boys’ varsity basketball team, was elected to the student council, was involved with the video production club and was a student ambassador.
Will Groulx is a six-time Paralympic medalist (2 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes) and four-time Paralympian while competing in wheelchair rugby (2004, 2008, 2012) and cycling (2016). Looking to make his second cycling appearance at the Paralympic Games, Groulx competes in time trial and road racing in the H2 class. Groulx served in the United States Navy from 1995-2001 before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Seven months after the accident, Groulx discovered wheelchair rugby and was immediately interested. His Paralympic career began with making three U.S. Paralympic Teams before switching to handcycling. Prior to his injury, he served as a nuclear-trained electrician’s mate and diver on a fast-track submarine stationed out of Norfolk, Virginia. Before joining the Navy, he attended the University of Tennessee on a volleyball scholarship. Groulx was nominated for an ESPY in the Best Male Athlete with a Disability category in 2009 and was named the U.S. Quad Rugby Association Athlete of the Year in 2010.
Clara Brown has been competing in the Para-cycling world championship circuit for two years and has already won six medals (2 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes) with hopes of competing in her first Paralympic Games. Brown competes in the C3 class in three events: individual pursuit, time trial and road race. Brown was an avid athlete competing as a competitive gymnast, runner and skier before sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C5/C6 level at age 12. After several years of physical rehabilitation, and some unexpected compounding injuries, Brown joined her high school rowing team as a coxswain. After rowing in high school and early college, she sought a competitive activity powered by her own means and purchased her first modified road bike her freshman year of college, which ignited her passion for bikes as a means of transportation and as a way to stay active. After graduating, she was hired at a bike touring company where one of her clients served on the USOPC’s Paralympic Advisory Committee and encouraged her to race competitively. Brown was invited to a talent ID camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in June of 2018, and then proceeded to compete at the third Para-cycling road world cup in Baie Comeau, Quebec, in August of 2018, taking bronze in the road race. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, camping, and downhill skiing. She is currently working on obtaining her private pilot’s license and hopes to attend law school.
It’s great for Huntsville!
This event wasn’t planned overnight. It has taken months of work to get to this stage – and officials with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, along with Medalist Sports, an Atlanta-based company planning the event, have repeatedly said Huntsville has its act together. Working together is a good thing – it means they’ll want to come back. During their visits here, the planning team has looked at other local venues for future events.
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Local government agencies and organizations involved in planning the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open include the Mayor’s Office, the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, Huntsville Police Department, the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, and the Huntsville Sports Commission. We also thank our medical partners: Huntsville Hospital, Crestwood Medical Center, HEMSI, The Orthopaedic Center (TOC), and SportsMed. Several local sponsors have also made the Paralympics possible in Huntsville: Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Raytheon Technologies, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Phoenix, Nesin Physical Therapy, and KBR.
We look forward to seeing you there to cheer on the athletes!
U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open Details
About the Author, Claire Aiello: This vibrant local mom of two loves punny jokes, Wonder Woman, and gets to tell the world about Huntsville for a living as the VP of Marketing and Communications at the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce.