Many years ago, perhaps at the very dawn of mountain biking, a friend from college an I were on a hiking trail on Pike's Peak in Colorado. We didn't have very ambitious hiking plans, and we stopped frequently along the way to observe, take photos, and eat snacks. During one such stopover, we were passed by a cyclist struggling up a steep section of trail. We remarked penetratingly that it must be very difficult pedaling up like this. He replied that he would not have undertaken the climb on foot, because he was an amputee. He lifted up his pant leg to demonstrate the prosthesis.
If I knew little about life without a limb then, I do not know any more today. But I know that as a bike repair shop, we are sometimes called upon to modify existing bikes to suit folks living with artificial limbs. One of our earliest customers, who has since passed away, had been a competitive bike racer, but lost his legs to diabetes. We adapted a Raleigh step-through bike for him to ride around the neighborhood. He explained that there are few local and reasonably priced resources for people who have lost a limb, but wish to stay strong, active and independent.
Like Sean Plomann. A couple of months ago, I asked Ronnie at the shop to come and help me deliver a bike to him. I asked Ronnie to come along, because I knew the bike would need some modifications, and I didn't know if I could handle it myself. As it turned out, I would have been way out of my league. Sean greeted us at the door with a cane and no left leg.
He spent a little time putting on his prosthesis, while Ronnie and I set the bike in the trainer we had brought along. Even with the trainer, Sean had a little trouble balancing the bike when he first got on. He explained that once he started riding, he could learn to make appropriate adjustments to his balance without the weight of his left leg.
The bigger problem was that the thickness of the artificial foot with the shoe on it prevented it from staying securely in the pedal. We had anticipated that Sean' foot might need some retaining device, but the Powerstraps we brought along pushed his foot too close to the crank arm, so that every time he pedaled, the crank arm actually rubbed against his foot.
I was at a loss, but Ronnie seemed confident that the pedal could be modified to do the job properly. We left Sean with the bike and the trainer to practice what he could, while Ronnie set to work at the shop on creating the pedal adaptation.
Sean was 12 when he developed cancer. He went through chemotherapy for a year and a half, but continued to suffer for about 17 years. He walked with a cane, and eventually developed nerve damage which caused him extreme pain. He had the leg amputated 3 years ago, relieved to end the pain he endured. After going through physical therapy for about a year, he is now ready to move forward. And to ride his bike, despite being told it couldn't be done. Speaking for myself, having seen Sean fight for balance that first day on a trainer, it took a leap of faith to believe he could ride on his own.
Sean knew what he was talking about. With the modified pedal being the
only alteration to his otherwise stock Dahon bike, he participated in
Bike the Drive last month. Although this year, after a mere couple of
months on his new bike, he was only able to complete half of the ride,
he doesn't see any reason why he should not be able to do the whole
thing next year. He hopes that this undertaking will help encourage
other persons with disabilities to pursue physical challenges, by
showing that it can be done; and demonstrate to those in the
non-disabled community who think otherwise, that persons with
disabilities can accomplish such challenges.
Outside of cycling, Sean is Master's student in Disability Studies and Human Development in the field of Applied Health Sciences. He also has a graduate assistantship at UIC working for the Chancellor's Committee on the Status of Persons with Disabilities (CCSPD). He hopes to finish his Master's degree and then go on to earn a PhD so that eventually he can teach. Meanwhile, he's is trying to become more involved with organizations that promote disability rights, such as Access Living and Chicago ADAPT. He hopes that through activism and advocacy he can contribute to creating a vibrant community of persons with disabilities as well as trying to help build better communication and relations with the non-disabled.
The T-shirt Sean is wearing in these photos was created by his friend, Annie Hopkins, who is now deceased. The back of the T-shirt says "Embrace. Educate. Empower": embrace diversity, educate your community, empower each other.' It's distributed by www.3elove.com.
It's been very gratifying for us at Rapid Transit to work with Sean, and playing a small part in helping him achieve his dream of independent travel.