Editor’s note: The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia is honored to host a new series on our blog about adaptive cycling, written by local cyclist Patrick Sweeney. As a differently-abled person, Sweeney has found freedom in his bicycle and has used that freedom to become an athlete. These will be published every Wednesday from here on out. 

Bike in Philly

My name is Patrick and I am an adaptive cyclist. That means I cycle, but I do it on a type of bike that works with my disability. I have left sided hemiparesis. That means my movement, balance, and vision are impaired on my left side.

But, my hemiparesis doesn’t stop me from cycling. Adaptive cycling is a great sport for people with disabilities, because it brings a sense of freedom.

Because of my disability, I can’t drive, and I have to walk carefully. But, adaptive cycling gives me the ability to go wherever I can go on a bike. I get to ride on back roads and trails, and I see towns I’ve never been to before. It lets me access the outdoors, which I love. I get to explore lots of gorgeous scenery like woods, lakes, and fields.

In a competition, I don’t know where the end will be or what I’ll see next. It’s exciting!

But the freedom of cycling goes beyond the physical freedom. It gives you a mental freedom. For me, it is freedom to belong to my cyclist club, and to be able to participate in a sport. In regular life, people sometimes don’t know how to interact with a person who has a disability (even though we’re just like everyone else!)

But, at cycling competitions, I stand out on my adaptive trike, and people want to talk to me about it. People say they are amazed that I can ride so far on my trike, and that I inspire them to keep going. There is so much camaraderie on rides. During competitions, we encourage each other: “You can do it, no matter what!”

You can do it, as long as you practice. That’s the other part of the mental freedom of cycling. Once you get into it, you realize the possibilities of what you can do. For example, my first competition was a 15 mile bike “sprint”.

I worked up to longer distances and built it up. With a few years of practice, I was able to do a 57 mile, hilly ride for Ride for Ataxia.  That was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life! But now when I face a challenge, I think, “If I could do 57 miles on hills, I can do this too”.

Cycling gives me confidence, and it gives me the freedom to forget my “limitations”.

If you are interested in experiencing this freedom too, I’ll be writing a series of posts about Adaptive Cycling here. I’ll give practical tips and information about the sport, like where to ride and where to get the right equipment.

Anything is possible when you know what you can achieve in even a small amount of time!

Read the whole series here: 

Part 1: Meet Patrick Sweeney 

Part 2: Training 

Part 3: Safety 

Part 4: Racing 

Part 5: Race Day

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