June 12, 2002
Physically challenged athletes from Methodist Rehabilitation Center to compete Saturday in Dragonfly Triathlon
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
SARDIS, Miss.—For the sixth year, physically challenged athletes will represent Methodist Rehabilitation Center in a relay team at the Dragonfly Triathlon.
Following up a successful showing at the Heatwave Triathlon last weekend in Ridgeland, the duo of Randy Lavender and Josh Sharpe will be racing back-to-back weekends.
Lavender, of Tupelo, who injured his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident 17 years ago, will face a daunting task when he leaves Cypress Point beach and begins the opening segment half mile swim with only his arms to pull him through.
Such challenges are everyday feats for Lavender who is also an accomplished wheelchair racer and an advocate for the disabled.
“I want to prove to others that there are a lot of activities you can do even with a disability,” said Lavender, who is also involved with Living Independence for Everyone (LIFE) and holds support meetings once a month. “That’s part of the fun of racing. I like showing people the proof. I show people pictures of us snow skiing, water skiing, rock climbing. We have fun everywhere we go.”
Sharpe, a Jackson paraplegic who lost the use of his legs in a car accident, will cover the 18.5-mile bike course on a hand cycle. Sharpe said he fell in love with hand cycling after seeing pictures of the futuristic-looking machines in a magazine.
“It was an issue of Sports ‘N’ Spokes and I had been looking for ways to stay in shape,” Sharpe said. “As soon as I was riding on one, I knew it was something I wanted to master.”
A hand cycle has three wheels and gearing raised so the rider can push the pedals with his hands. Just like a bicycle, it also has several gears to shift through making hill climbs easier. In preparing for a race like the Dragonfly, Sharpe averages 20-30 miles per ride with long rides up to 70 miles long.
Since becoming addicted to hand cycling, Sharpe has become a mainstay in other sports as well. He’s a frequent rock climber and is also active in scuba diving, tennis and skiing. Like Lavender, Sharpe also wants to see more people with disabilities learn the joy and benefits of sport.
A lot of Methodist Rehab’s athletes weren’t very active, let alone competitive before their injuries, said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at the Jackson hospital. “But when they start training and they start seeing themselves getting into shape, they want to see how far they can take it,” she said.
“Triathlon is a great opportunity because it’s so much fun. You’re outside. You’re with your friends. So many people out there with disabilities don’t know they can have this much fun and be active in sports,” Boydston added.
Both Lavender and Sharpe talk to others with disabilities about becoming involved in sports and leading an active lifestyle.
“It’s scary to think how many people in wheelchairs just sit around and aren’t active,” said Sharpe. “It’s obviously bad for you physically, but it’s also bad for you mentally. Being out there and doing things like climbing a 30 foot-tall rock wall or pedaling a hand cycle gives you the self-confidence to do other things like driving a car or getting a job.
“Sports don’t just help you become an athlete, they help you become a whole person again.”
For more information:
Rehab center team to race in triathlon | The Clarion-Ledger