Special hybrid gives riders with disabling injuries another option
May 29, 2009 04:30 AM
Readers, keep your eyes on the road. An extremely rare vehicle is cruising through our city’s streets. It is a three-wheeled bike approved for international racing competitions, the only one of its kind in Ontario.
This is a special hybrid, made from a high-end racing bike, European and Canadian parts, and forged in a Toronto mechanics shop. It looks like a giant trike, with three equally sized bike wheels and a special bar at the back to prevent people from bumping into it during races.
“Hopefully people will see my trike and say, `Hey … what are you riding?'” said Shelley Gautier, 40, who wants to be the first Canadian woman to compete in paracycling on a trike at the 2012 Paralympics in London, England.
Eight years ago, Gautier was a physiotherapist who raced competitively. She was on holiday in Vermont when she crashed her bike, crushing her helmet and sustaining a severe brain injury.
“Believe me, I am lucky to be alive.”
After six weeks in a coma, she spent eight months in rehab in Toronto learning how to talk and walk again. She has hemiplegia, or one-sided paralysis, which affects the right side of her body.
When she rides, both feet are strapped in and her right hand is attached to the handlebar. Her left side does most of the work, although her right side has some movement, which helps to control the bike.
Her injury has not prevented her from engaging in a number of sports, including sailing and swimming and rock climbing. She also rides a recumbent bike and can drive a car. “I can walk. It’s not a great walk, but it’s a walk.”
Today Gautier will lead a parade of cyclists at the St. Lawrence Market to kick off the Toronto Criterium, inner-city bike races, to raise awareness for trike racing. For safety reasons, she has to ride with a member of the Lapdogs, a group of cyclists based out of Duke’s Cycle in Toronto, in case she tips over when she shifts her weight.
In July, she will head to the nationals in Quebec to compete against men. A day or two before the 10- to 15-kilometre road race and separate time trial, she will be classified and placed in one of two categories for athletes with cerebral palsy. If she is fast enough, she could make the national team. And if she does that, international competitions are next on the list.
As she trains, Gautier wants to raise awareness. “There are a lot of people in Toronto who are disabled but would love the opportunity to ride …. No one has said, `You can get out and ride a trike.'”
Follow Gautier’s progress at https://shelleygautier.wordpress.com.