Gravel Racing Add Para-cycling Categories

Already designed to be inclusive events, a growing number of gravel races are adding categories for para-cyclists, largely thanks to the efforts of three-time Paralympian Meg Fisher. This gives disabled athletes the opportunity to compete against each other in races that they may not have had that opportunity before.

Para-cycling, broadly defined, tailors the sport of cycling for athletes who have some level of physical disability and use specialized equipment. The addition of para-cycling categories, open to athletes with any type of physical disability, allows para-cyclists to compete against each other in dirt races for results and podium finishes, separate from able-bodied athletes.

“Para athletes have a space in other sports and I want to make sure there is a space for us on the gravel,” said Fisher, a leading para-cycling advocate and amputee who competed in the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, won 11 world titles in paracycling and is active in the gravel scene. “Some people need this direct call to realize that they are welcome in space.”

To provide that space, Fisher has spent the last two years working with developers, helping them understand the opportunity a para category represents and recommending guidelines that are inclusive and fair without being burdensome to implement.

Rebecca’s Private Idahoa gravel race promoted by mountain biking legend Rebecca Rusch, it was the first event to introduce a para-cycling category, adding qualifying in 2021.

“The belief that everyone should have equal access to resources, opportunities and experiences is indelibly woven into the fabric of RPI,” said Rusch. Bicycling in an email. “We added para-cycling and non-binary categories to RPI to fulfill our mission of welcoming all types of cyclists in a meaningful and visible way.”

In 2022, the number of races with parallel categories will grow, including new additions to Grinduro’s event in Mt. Shasta, California, in May; by Peter Stetin pay the dirt in Carson City, Nevada, also in May; Without consolidatingheld in June in Emporia, Kansas; vermont rooted in Richmond, Vermont, in July; and SBT GRVL in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, in August.

How para-cycling categories will handle events

para-cycling category in dirt races

Meg Fisher, Physiotherapist, Paralympic athlete and voice for promoting competitive para-cycling in gravel racing.

Linda Guerrette / Rebecca’s Private Idaho

In the current and nascent version of gravel para-cycling, Fisher recommends that promoters group all qualifying athletes into one category. In practice, that means a quadriplegic athlete riding a handbike could be timed with an amputee riding a stationary bike, as well as someone with partial paralysis riding an electric bike.

Currently the rules are not standardized across all events, and some events are restricting trikes and hand trikes, which are often too wide for single track sections. Rebecca’s Private Idaho offers a change of route for three-wheeled bikes, while other events accept trikes only over select distances.

Other considerations that events are now contemplating include shadow riders, who sometimes accompany para-cyclists and help out on the course, as well as whether they will allow electric bikes, which are not always allowed on public land but can be allowed as equipment. of adaptation.

While Fisher admits that an amalgamated Paralympic category is not the perfect model of competition compared to Paralympic racing, in which athletes are evaluated and categorized strictly according to their disability, he feels it is important to establish a space for para-cycling on gravel with a model that allows to take advantage of the greatest number of cyclists and promoters.

Fisher’s goal, he said, is for promoters to view the para as a similar age group, pointing out that older athletes aren’t expected to finish at the same time as younger riders.

Diverse motivations for the categories of paracyclists: a goal

In 2022, Fisher expects the SBT GRVL to have the largest turnout of paracyclists, with around 30 athletes expected, including members of the London 2012 Paralympic team (they will meet at the event). Other races are likely to only attract a handful in their first year.

For promoters, adding the category offers a way to attract more riders to their events and to gravel racing in general.

“Inclusion has been one of the core values ​​of the SBT GRVL from the beginning,” said SBT GRVL Race Director Amy Charity, adding that inclusion extends to all types of riders. “We are proud to welcome paracyclists from diverse backgrounds and believe this is just the beginning.”

Charity noted that SBT GRVL also focuses on gender parity, racial equity initiatives and body positivity, in part through partnering with organizations focused on diversity in cycling. “Historically, cycling has been a male-dominated sport with little diversity. SBT GRVL is in a position to address the issue of representation in cycling by talking about it, creating space for different communities and ensuring that we are fostering a welcoming environment for all. We believe it is our personal and collective responsibility to play an active role in eliminating inequalities in cycling,” she said.

Peter Stetina’s Pay Dirt, in Carson City, Nevada, also serves as a fundraiser for the High Fives Foundation, an organization that supports athletes living with spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) sustained while participating in a outdoor sport. Stetina, whose father lives with the lasting impact of a TBI, is a member of the board. He decided to add a para category after talking with Fisher and seeing para athletes at Rebecca’s Private Idaho in 2021.

“The only reason we have this event is to benefit the High Fives,” he said, “and we didn’t even have a category for their athletes. So it was a no-brainer to add the category.”

“Once you learn about this, it’s just about supporting our overall cycling community. I hope this becomes standardized and gravel becomes an avenue for all these athletes to do something they enjoy,” Stetina said.

Fisher is looking abroad for her 2022 goals and is looking to compete in the Kenya Migration Gravel Race in June. He will also race the LeadBoat Double, Leadville 100-SBT GRVL in August.

“Seeing a photo of me can resonate with a person who may need help to overcome any obstacle that comes their way,” she said. “Not every athlete is trying to be an inspiration, but if you help someone… How cool is that?”

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