Before you start reading this, please stop and do a quick mental exercise: close your eyes and try to remember all the times you said you won’t ride your bike because you are feeling tired, because it’s raining outside, or any other excuse you used to not go out and enjoy the blessing of being completely healthy.
I had my first experience with paracycling last year. I was trying to look for a new subject for my portfolio. I admit it, at the first glance of this type of cycling, my curiosity was bigger than anything. I had never seen anything like these bikes and athletes except on the internet, so I went to the place of the race without knowing what expect. And nothing prepared me for what I was going to learn in these two days of racing.
When I arrived, I was a little bit apprehensive because I didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t know how to approach and talk with all different people. I was afraid to be rude or disrespectful because I didn’t know if they wanted to be photographed. But I captured my first shot anyway and magic happened immediately.
With the first shot came the first smiles. People started to talk to me and I realized the fear I was feeling was part of the prejudice that we all have. Yes, many see these people with prejudice, we see a man/woman in a wheelchair and our first thought is pity. But the truth is that they are amazing, capable and inspiring athletes and they showed me this riding incredibly times on their bikes, smiling and joking about life and everything else.
A year later I had a chance to meet all of these athletes again. And to my surprise, many of them remembered me from the last year and said that my pictures helped them with visibility towards sponsors. It also showed paracycling to a lot of people who didn’t know about it before and for this year’s race I was excited to see so many new faces competing. This made me realize how important it is to give attention to all sorts of events.
While talking with the athletes, I could see how important and how grateful the sport can be, because the great part of then said “with the bicycle I can be fast, I can ride long distances, and I can feel as free as a person without handicap is”.
The first day of races, was dedicated to road races with different classes racing at a crit circuit in the city center. The races was held in one of the most important avenues of the city. This was made with objective of be more easy to the public see the races and know about the sport. Sadly, we saw a lack of interest from the general public (with people trespassing the circuit without seeing what was happening and almost causing accidents). What was even worse to me was that almost no cycling-involved people in city showed up to see the event.
The second day hosted time trial races. I had time to talk with athletes and race organizers and all they pointed to the same problems: Lack of interest from “normal’ people, almost no sponsors for cycling (compared to soccer, or volleyball and basketball), amateurish organization in some races, and the classic cycling problem; doping.
But there is a lot of good initiatives! The brazilian paralympic committee paid hotel expenses for the athletes and provided transportations for bikes from hotel to race track. More competing teams had technical staff, and a lot of athletes was coming with experience from international races and had amazing results. But most importantly, a good sense of friendship.
While cycling in Brazil has a lot learn and needs growth and development, paracycling athletes are a good example to follow.