Tough Terrain

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News January 2019

The Adaptive mountain Biking World Championships provide these PVA members with much more than a race up the side of a mountain

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It all seemed to be going to plan for U.S. Army veteran Seth Arseneau. He had just finished his first tour of active duty, was busy studying for a college degree and was considering another enlistment toward a 20-year military career. And then life happened.

While commuting to school in 2001, a violent motorcycle accident landed Arseneau in the hospital, where he learned that he sustained a life-altering spinal-cord injury (SCI). He spent the next few months in rehabilitation, learning how to navigate his new world and planning for his future. Not long after Arseneau’s injury, his passion for life, tenacity and esprit de corps landed him in the world of adaptive handcycling and with that, a promising outlook was unfolding. 

For Arseneau, hanadcycling helped to restore the freedom and adrenaline boost that was taken from him years earlier, which is why he continues to make a yearly 350-mile trek from Albuquerque, N.M., to Crested Butte, Colo., for the Adaptive Mountain Biking World Championships, hosted by the Adaptive Sports Center.

Passion For Handcycling

Last August, Arseneau joined his teammates from Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Racing, along with a handful of other athletes, to test their merit against the rocky terrain and thin mountain air of Mount Crested Butte. 

It would prove to be the perfect elixir of determination, endurance and perseverance as man and machine are pitted against the elements of a 10,000-foot mountain for a chance to claim the winning title.

And while that title is more about bragging rights than any substantial championship status, it doesn’t keep the riders from giving their all for events such as the hill climb, trials, super D and cross-country races.

“It’s pretty brutal and definitely tests the strength and endurance of the riders,” says Adaptive Sports Center program coordinator Rob Guenther. “The event initially started as a big gathering and not so much race-focused, but rather an adventure-riding event. It has since evolved into the one and only off-road handcycle race in the country.”

The three-day event kicks off in the late afternoon with the hill climb race. Athletes are staged at the base of Mount Crested Butte on the Silver Queen service road and crank their way over a 2.5-mile swath of baby heads (softball-sized rocks), water bars and loose gravel paths. It’s a grueling ascent, and while some of the higher-level injured athletes have the benefit of a motor-assist bike, for many, it’s all grit.

For riders like Arseneau, conquering the mountain, pushing their limits and a passion for handcycling are all part of the experience. But unlike open road handcycling, off-road handcycling takes on a whole new level of difficulty. 

“It never gets any easier,” says Arseneau. “When you come up to 10,000-feet elevation, everything is difficult. I’ve done this race and this type of stuff so many times that I just know, if you don’t have a motor anyway, it’s going to be a lot of suffering. It’s tough terrain.”


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Tough Terrain


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