Marines

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Handcyclists take off during the Marine Corps Community Services’ 24th annual Marine Corps Half Marathon aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 25. Handcyclists travel all around the country, competing alongside runners in events such as 10-kilometer races, half marathons and full marathons.

Photo by Cpl. Jo Jones

Handcyclists make a difference, compete in long-distance races

25 Sep 2010 | Cpl. Jo Jones

David Swaim has been handcycling for the past 32 years.  After a tragic weight-lifting accident left him paralyzed, the former marathon runner was still determined to compete in long-distance races.

While recovering in a hospital, Swaim, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran, met Wannie “Ike” Cook, a recreational therapist who first introduced him to wheelchair racing.  As he continued to rehabilitate and build back his strength, Swaim worked his way from the wheelchair to the racing bike.

“It’s an outstanding exercise,” said Swaim.  “Being able to handcycle shows that we’re still able to do something.”

Handcycling is a sport that allows athletes to ride a bike, mainly using upper-body strength and dexterity.  Although it was originally created for disabled persons, handcycling has since evolved to include able-bodied competitors.

Cyclists can contact the prosthetics department at their local hospital to obtain a handcycle.  Custom-made handcycles are built to fit each person’s size and accommodate their individual needs.

Swaim added that organizations such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and numerous charities will often sponsor athletes, or even provide the bikes, for those who wish to participate in races. 

These athletes travel all around the country, competing alongside runners in events such as 10-kilometer races, half marathons and full marathons.

Swaim and three other handcyclists most recently competed in the 24th annual Marine Corps Half Marathon aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.  Bruce Newman has been handcycling for about one year, while Paul Kelly has competed in a number of races for the past three years. 

The newest handcyclist on the 13.1-mile course was Sgt. Ryan Anderson, a Marine with Wounded Warrior Battalion – East aboard MCB Camp Lejeune, who has been handcycling for approximately three months. 

Although there is no official handcycling club aboard the base, the athletes concurred that races like the Marine Corps Half Marathon gave them a chance to compete, meet new people and reunite with old friends.

“I was glad to be out here,” said Anderson.  “It pushes me and gives me a little competition, although it’s not entirely about the competition; it’s about the camaraderie.”

The handcyclists plan to compete in the 35th annual Marine Corps Marathon, which will take place Oct. 31 in Washington, D.C.  Some will compete in teams; others will compete individually.

Kelly said he plans to participate in the full 26.2-mile race as a member of Team Hope for the Warriors.  Hope for the Warriors is an organization that seeks to enhance quality of life for U.S. service members and their families who have been affected by injuries or death incurred in the line of duty. 

Kelly added he has pledged to handcycle more than 2,008 miles in training, races and fundraising events, and he wants to raise $ 26,000 – $1,000 per mile of a marathon – to increase awareness and financial support for Hope for the Warriors.

“It’s an honor for me to dedicate my training and my races to the brave men and women who have sacrificed in the name of our freedom,” said Kelly.  “I’m inspired.”

For some people, handcycling is a hobby, but for Swaim, Newman, Kelly and Anderson, it’s a chance to make a difference.

For more information about handcycling, visit ushandcycling.org/2010.