colin lynch

words by colin lynch

When Colin Lynch was 16, he broke his foot playing rugby. But instead of going to the hospital, he walked around on it for a couple of weeks. He had no pain and eventually doctors figured out there was a problem. A spinal cord tumor has caused him to lose feeling in his legs.

Then, a cast that was too tight caused severe tissue damage and multiple infections to his foot. After several years of surgeries, they decided to amputate his leg below the knee.

This is the story of Colin Lynch, the Irishman who lost his leg and decided to become world champion.

Can you give us a introduction of yourself?
I have a very complicated background having lived in several places around the world. I currently live in the UK and represent Ireland on the Paralympic Cycling team. In 2011 I won the UCI Paracycling Time Trial World Championship title, and followed it up in 2012 with another World Championship title in the Individual Pursuit on the track.

I competed in the London 2012 Paralympic Games but things did not go according to plan. I missed a medal by 1/10th of a second (on the track) and was just outside the medals in the Time Trial. And in my last event, I crashed out of the road race in the first corner.

Since then I have been trying to make amends as I prepare to right the wrongs of the past, and try and win a medal in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The odds are stacked against me as I get older and struggle to find the resources needed to train at the highest level. But I’m up for the challenge. I always have been.

Who were you before the injury?
Well, my injury happened at such an early age that it’s hard to say who I was or what I would become. It’s fair to say that it has shaped me into the man I am to day though. At that age, I was still figuring out who I was. But the seeds of who I am now were there – fiercely competitive, driven, a fighter.

I can imagine hearing that your leg will be amputated is like getting a death sentence at first. How did you take it?
Initially I was in denial. The doctors basically made me make the decision for myself – telling me there was nothing more they could do for me and it was either amputation or risk ending up in a wheelchair. At first I just declined the amputation – but 6 months later when I could barely walk any more, I went back and had them do it.

I was lucky to have a really good group of friends around me at the time to help me through it. They made it ‘easy’ for me to deal with. And 6 months afterwards, I was back to an active lifestyle – even out skiing!

What inspired you to get back on the bike?
Before I lost my leg I used to ride regularly and even did a bit of road racing. After the surgery I just rode a mountain bike for fun. Going back almost 10 years now – I found myself in a new country and not riding any more. I started gaining a lot of weight and in 2007 I finally realized it was time to get rid of the weight and get fit again. So I bought a bike and started training.

There’s quite a long haul from ‘getting back into shape’ and deciding to get really competitive and chase Paralympic medals – how did that happen?
It was a gradual process. Initially I was just trying to lose weight. But that happened very quickly. I dropped 80 pounds in 3 months once I started riding again. At this point I started pushing myself a bit more and doing Sportives (non-competitive cycling events). The competitor in me quickly returned and I started back into racing.

In 2008 I watched saw the success of the GB cycling team in the Beijing Paralympic Games and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. I thought “I can do that”. Of course – they were so good that they made it look a lot easier than it turned out to be! But my journey was underway. I got in touch with the Irish team and got a tryout.

How would your friends describe you?
Stubborn, driven, competitive, generous. Or maybe that’s how I’d describe myself. They’d probably describe me a pain in the ass! Those that know me well, know that I would do anything to help a true friend. But they also know how much winning means to me and how much time and effort I need to dedicate towards that goal. So they know I can’t offer much of my time presently.

Many people say that all world champions (in whatever sports they compete) have similar personalities. Would you agree?
I have no idea. But I think there must be similar characteristics amongst many successful athletes. You have to be driven and dedicated. And you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot to become and stay at the top of your game. There’s an element of selfishness that you must have but also intelligence in order to do the right things and follow the right advice to keep succeeding.

Do you have three do’s and don’ts for people chasing dreams like you did (and succeeded with)?
DO make a plan.
DO dream big.
DO push past your perceived limits.
DON’T be afraid to fail.
DON’T expect success overnight.
DON’T give up until someone else makes you.

You currently run a Indiegogo fundraiser. What’s it for?
Via my site (www.rioleg.com) I’m currently trying to raise enough money to build a brand-new, custom-fitted carbon cycling prosthetic leg. The one I have is outdated, uncomfortable and compromises my training. It causes me pain so I can’t spend nearly enough time on the bike to train effectively. In addition, I’m working with an aerodynamics expert to try and minimize the drag it creates. Having lost a Paralympic medal by 1/10th of a second already, I don’t want to risk that happening again.

What inspired you to create the campaign?
It was actually a campaign I saw for a power meter. I realized that there are loads of people out there willing to help out with financial backing for interesting projects. However, I probably over-estimated the public’s good will. With the exception of a couple of very generous donors, it’s been tough to get people to donate and be a part of the project. To date, I’ve only reached 30% of my target. I was hoping a LOT more people would donate small amounts.

As it is, I have to pay for all my training, most of my racing (multiple trips around the world and throughout Europe), all my equipment and just my daily living expenses. I don’t have the funds to pay for another cycling leg, so decided to public with the appeal. People probably think I want them to donate hundreds or thousands (of pounds), but the truth is that even the smallest donations of £5 all add up to help me reach my target.

We’ve understood that Rio 2016 is your next goal. How’s the preparation and training going for that?
Rio is the long-term goal. But before I even get to Rio, there is a lot of racing to be done. The qualification period to get to Rio doesn’t even end until next February, so in the meantime there are several World Championships to contend, plus a series of World Cup and International races – all with qualification points on the line.

I’m still in the process of gradually improving and trying new things: training techniques, equipment, positions on the bikes, clothing, etc.

This past year has seen me slip slightly in terms of my performances but I still have complete confidence that when Rio does roll around, I’ll be 100% prepared and capable of winning that elusive medal.

My biggest target for this year is to do the Paracycling Hour Record (on the track). I’m planning my attempt in October – and it’s my hope that the work and preparation I do for the attempt will carry over into my preparations for Rio and set me up very nicely for some great performances in 2016.

Do you have any goals beyond Rio?
It all depends on how well Rio goes for me. There’s apart of me that would love to keep going, especially if I’m still capable of competing at the top level. However, the reality is that at my age, Rio will represent my final major competition. I would love to come back for one more year after Rio and try and win another World Championship though!

What will you do when your cycling career is over?
I get asked this question a lot. The honest answer is that I haven’t thought about it too much yet. I’m still focused on my career as a cyclist and don’t want to look too far past that yet. But I plan to stay involved in the cycling world.

I have been fortunate to make some good connections with people in the business of cycling and hopefully that will turn into a job opportunity when I’m done racing. There’s also the possibility of becoming involved in coaching. I would love to help shape the next generation of Paralympic cyclist!

Any last words?
My life has been a constant struggle to overcome setbacks. Not just losing a leg, but the day-to-day struggle of being an amputee. I live with constant pain – every single day. I can ride 150km a day, but struggle to walk 150 feet.

There is the struggle to overcome defeats and setbacks. The struggle to find enough time and money to train the way I need to train and buy the equipment I need to buy. I live in a world of split seconds – that can make the difference between success and failure.

So why try when the barriers are so high and the odds are so low? Why don’t I just pack it in and go home when It would be easier? Because there is no glory in easy. No one remembers easy. They remember the struggle and the long, agonising fight to the top. And that…is how you become “legendary”.

worth sharing?
Name: Colin Lynch
Age: 45
Lives in: Macclesfield, UK
Team: Irish Paralympic Cycling Team
About Colin: I once came within one question of winning £1 million on a UK game show (but not Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)
Www: rioleg.com
Blog:  637daystogo
Follow on Velonode: @FormerTTchamp

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