Handcycle Racers Prepare for River Bank 25K

Bryan Wilkinson was two months out of high school and enjoying a Michigan summer.

On July 31, 2000, he happily agreed to a dirt bike outing with his cousin. What happened next forever changed his life’s trajectory.

Now 34, Wilkinson remembers hitting an obstacle on the bike at a high rate of speed. He went flying through the air and hit the ground hard. A spinal cord injury left him paralyzed from the chest down, with no chance of regaining feeling.

He knew right then he was paralyzed. A feeling of calm came over him in the ambulance and a desire to make the best of the situation has motivated him ever since.

“I accepted it pretty quickly and I know that God was the one who helped me through it,” Wilkinson said.

Bryan Wilkinson
Bryan Wilkinson

One of the ways he’s moved forward is through the sport of handcycling, which allows a rider to power a three-wheeled bike with their hands. After picking up the sport while attending Grand Valley State University, Wilkinson now serves as head coach to others on the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Sports handcycle team.

After a longer than usual winter, Wilkinson and team are now in training mode for the upcoming Fifth Third River Bank 25K event in Grand Rapids. The race is one of five that make up the Michigan Handcycle Racing Series.

From people just beginning their rehabilitation to avid and experienced riders, Wilkinson said regaining a sense of normalcy and finding a way to be physically active is an important mental aspect of recovery.

“Staying active is so important when you have a spinal cord injury,” he said.

Handcycling is a way to let go of limitations and adapt to be able to participate, Wilkinson explained. Training together as a team is also an important way for new riders to see what’s possible for their future.

“We have a community of people who are like-minded, a community of people with like abilities and it’s just great because we build off of each other,” Wilkinson said.

“We’re people just like everybody else and we’re looking to be active just like the majority of folks,” he said.

Wilkinson is looking forward to the team lining up at the start of Riverbank. He said looking to his right and left and seeing the team jerseys is always a good feeling. He hopes to eventually build the team to a more competitive level, perhaps with more riders participating in international competition and at the Paralympic level. Until then, he’s looking forward to ushering new and experienced riders through the upcoming race season.

“Once you build up your arm strength and your body and mind, the sky’s the limit after that,” he said.

Blue Care Network is a sponsor of the Fifth Third River Bank 10,000 Steps Challenge. Good luck to everyone participating in the Fifth Third River Bank family of events on Saturday, May 14.

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Photos courtesy of Bryan Wilkinson

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