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Adaptive Cyclist, Patrick Sweeny has got the nerve

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My name is Patrick Sweeney and I’m an adaptive cyclist. I had myoclonic seizures that led me to having surgery in 2013. I am now seizure free, but I have left sided hemiparesis, meaning I have left side weakness, but this doesn’t stop me from competing in triathlon relays and endurance sports.

I’ve done about 50 triathlon relays and three or four 65-mile bike races and charity rides. Some of the events that I’ve participated in are three Half Ironman relays in Atlantic City. Most of my triathlons are done from May up until September and are held within the Pennsylvania/New Jersey areas.

The most memorable ride I’ve participated in was also my first, Got the Nerve. This race was an all-adaptive triathlon. The atmosphere itself was electric! I ended up placing first with some great competition at hand.

The reason why I got involved in adaptive cycling was from the help of some non-profits. Those being IM ABLE Foundation and the Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports.

The freedom of cycling goes beyond the physical freedom. It gives you mental freedom. Cycling has given me confidence. It gives me the freedom to forget my “limitations” and pursue my dreams.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got into adaptive cycling?   

I was a soccer player who fought through seizures throughout my playing and coaching career. Myoclonic seizures led me to having surgery in 2013. I am now seizure free, for almost 10 years, but I have left sided hemiparesis—meaning limited use of my left arm. This doesn’t stop me from competing as an adaptive cyclist. I currently compete in triathlon relays and endurance sports. I’ve done about 50 triathlon relays and it doesn’t stop there. The reason why I got involved in adaptive cycling was from a recreational therapist who introduced me to Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports.

What challenges have you faced as an adaptive cyclist and how have you overcome them?

A common challenge that I faced in the beginning was communicating with the race directors. I had trouble getting into the races themselves. It was a little tough because the directors weren’t familiar with my condition, but once we broke down that barrier everything ran smoother after that. After advocating for myself by showing them different ways to stage in the transition zones I was able to finish the races with no problem. Overall, the biggest win for me was introducing a new way of being inclusive for everyone who wanted to compete.

Can you walk us through your adaptive cycling setup and equipment?

I have a recumbent cycle, which is a 3-wheeled bike. I steer with my right hand. The gears and the brakes are on the right side since my left side is affected. I also have a camelback, which is a hydration pack. I keep this in the back of the bike with a tube going over my shoulder so I can drink water and make sure I am fully hydrated throughout my rides. I am able to pace myself with my bike computer that tracks mileage, rpm, and mph through every ride I do. In my opinion, the most important piece of equipment is the helmet!

How has adaptive cycling impacted your daily life and overall well-being?

Adaptive cycling has changed my life not only physically, but socially and emotionally. I have gained a lot of new friends, peers and teammates. It’s led me to gain confidence and immensely improve my self-esteem because I see myself as an able-bodied athlete instead of an adaptive athlete. I’m competing with able bodied athletes, and I’m treated no differently.

Can you share some of your proudest moments or achievements as an adaptive cyclist?

I would have to say some of my proudest moments would be completing the Atlantic City Half Ironman (57 miles!) as well as placing first in the Got the Nerve triathlon.

How do you see the adaptive cycling community and sport evolving in the future?

I personally see the adaptive cycling community expanding with providing more opportunities for adaptive cyclists. In fact, this year they added an adaptive athlete category in the Half Ironman and other races across the board, which is definitely a win!

Can you talk about any organizations or initiatives that you’re involved in to promote adaptive cycling?

The Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports (PCAS) and the IM ABLE Foundation are two organizations that I am heavily involved in and are a big support system for me. PCAS holds a Cinco de Mayo ride annually for adaptive athletes. In addition, IM ABLE holds an event called Got the Nerve which is an all-inclusive triathlon/fundraiser.

How do you think society can better support and include adaptive athletes?

I think the community should hold more all-inclusive events as well as making ride accommodations for an adaptive athlete so they can compete. Overall, I think support and awareness is needed in the racing community for others to be more understanding.

Can you share any advice for individuals who are interested in getting involved in adaptive cycling?

First off, go to a demo day, which is where they have multiple adaptive bikes for athletes to trial to see what the best fit for future ride/races would be. Second, find the right organization to apply to for a grant to get the right equipment. Lastly, have the confidence in yourself that YOU can do this. Don’t fear failure!

What do you hope to accomplish in the future with your adaptive cycling career or advocacy efforts?

My main goal for the future is to complete a century ride. As far as advocacy goes, I hope to make adaptive cycling more accessible for more competitive events as well as raise more awareness about this community. I want to make it more mainstream to be an adaptive athlete.

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