GUYANA’S differently-abled cyclist, Walter Grant-Stuart, is in line to receive a national sports award for his gold medal performance at the just concluded Union de Cycling International (UCI) C1 Para Cycle road race which was held last Sunday in Villengeneue, Montreal, Canada.
In a telephone interview, Director of Sport, Christopher Jones disclosed that Grant-Stuart’s achievement was something that did not surprise him, since the one-arm cyclist, over the past three years or so, has been turning in some astonishing performances while competing against other cyclists who are not physically-disabled.
“That is the reason why when we (National Sports Commission) were approached by Grant-Stuart, we did not hesitate to assist him financially or otherwise.
Jones said Grant-Stuart’s performance has put Guyana on the world map and this can lead other disabled Guyanese athletes to follow in his footsteps.
According to the Director of Sport, Grant-Stuart will be honoured for his achievement when the NSC recognises other outstanding Guyanese athletes at the upcoming National Sports Awards ceremony which will be held at the National Cultural Centre on May 22.
Grant-Stuart also recorded the second fastest time in last Saturday 17.6 km time trial but had to settle for fourth because he was rated 100 percent stability and functions.
With all the adversity he has faced since racing competitively with one hand in the last decade, nothing fazes Grant-Stuart.
He arrived in Toronto almost three weeks before the UCI championships to a wild winter week with freezing rain, an ice storm and snow. As a result he was restricted to training indoors in the basement of his coach, Wayne Henry’s residence, as he prepared to ride in the UCI- sanctioned C1 Para-cycling event at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal on April 28 and 29.
Though not prepared for the wintry weather, Grant-Stuart did not allow it to hamper his preparation to ride in Canada for the first time.
“It’s cold and nasty, but I came here to do a job and nothing is going to stop me,” he said.
This is the first time Grant-Stuart, who was sponsored by Ansa McAl Trading (Guyana), the National Sports Commission, Andrew King, Grace Kennedy Guyana, the Guyana Cycling Association of North America, Kevin Jeffrey and Guyana Cycling Federation president Horrace Burrowes, was competing against riders with various disabilities.
Since losing his right arm in a motorcycle accident 12 years ago, he has ridden against differently-abled cyclists.
“Some are deaf and mute, but I am the only one racing with one hand,” he said. That, of course, presents challenges.
When it’s time to get his water bottle or shift gears to pedal relatively comfortably, Grant-Stuart has to take his hand off the cycle. The bike gears are on the right handle which means he has to reach across with his left arm.
“That was a huge challenge at first,” said the firefighter, who loved watching the sport prior to the accident. “Without my dominant arm, I had to learn to do everything with the left hand.”
While taking part last year in the 120-kilometre Tour of Tobago, Grant-Stuart caught the attention of a female Canadian commissionaire.
“She suggested I could be a para-cycling world champion based on my ability and strength,” he said. “I didn’t take her seriously at first, but she kept insisting that I try at least.”
The one-handed cyclist contacted Henry, whom he had met in Guyana a few times, to help with his training for the event.
“I have been working with a Guyanese cyclist (Paul DeNobrega) for the last eight years and had seen Walter ride in a few races,” Henry shared. “I was amazed with his strength and endurance but felt he needed some guidance. Training hard is one thing, but you have to do it right to beat the top riders who are fully dedicated to the sport.”
The rider, whose training regime includes at least three training sessions totalling about 400-kilometres every week, reached out to Henry in early February for a structured training programme.
“Once he got it, he contacted me every night to bring me up to date with what he had done that day,” said the former Guyana cyclist who migrated in 1976. “I could see the amount of time he was training for, the speed he was reaching and his heart rate development. This guy was putting in the time and work and I knew this is someone I could work with because he wasn’t taking short cuts and trying to waste my time.”
Henry is amazed that Grant-Stuart, who competed in last year’s Thanksgiving Turkey Ride in Miami, has had success racing against able cyclists.
“When it comes down to strength, power and focus, there really is no difference between him and them,” he said. “They are athletes who all want to win. The main difference is when he wants to sprint to the finish line in a close race he needs both hands to provide the power. As an endurance rider, it’s in his best interest to wear out the field and build a lead so that he wouldn’t have to be involved in having to sprint to the finish. He would likely lose most times in that case.”
Another obstacle emerged when Grant-Stuart learnt that he would not be able to ride the bike he brought to Canada to race.
“The seat tube is damaged and while you can ride in Guyana with that, it’s not allowed here in a UCI event,” said Henry.
The gloom quickly turned to euphoria when twins Rick and Rob Din, who migrated from Guyana in 1991 and established the Bicycle Depot on Albion Road six years later, presented Stuart-Grant with a brand new bike, helmet, shoes and other accessories.
As the weather improved, the cyclist went outdoors to get a feel of the temperature.
“The cold air is heavy and it slows down your breathing,” Henry pointed out. “It puts a lot of stress on your heart and you have to adapt. It’s like training at high altitude.”
In a warm-up event last Sunday against able cyclists at Calabogie Motorsports Park in eastern Ontario, Stuart-Grant suffered a nasty spill with about two laps to go.
“He was doing pretty well before the fall and he is banged up,” said Henry. “The reason I took him out there is because the track is similar to the one he’s going to be racing on this weekend (last weekend).”
Grant-Stuart hopes to participate in the UCI Para-cycling road world championships in Maniago, Italy from August 2 to 5.
A Go Fund Me campaign has been initiated to raise $5 000 to help him compete in the international event.