“After the gold medal success they no longer saw me in the light of a person with a disability, but rather a man of pure ability.”
With just over two weeks to go, South Africa is awaiting the arrival of close to 200 international athletes for the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup from 11-13 September in Pietermaritzburg.
For the USA’s Oscar Sanchez, this World Cup will be his first time racing in South Africa.
The five-time world champion handcyclist sees this as the first stepping stone to spreading the Paralympic Movement in uncharted areas.
“In most third world countries, individuals with disabilities are considered ‘incapable’ and most of the time looked at with pity and treated accordingly,” Sanchez, 40, said. “That is of course until the population at large learns otherwise. I know from personal experience the transition that my friends and family went through from when I was first injured to when I achieved gold at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games.
“After the gold medal success they no longer saw me in the light of a person with a disability, but rather a man of pure ability,” Sanchez continued. “Africa’s hosting a World Cup race will bring awareness and a change to those who are in attendance. A single race will not make a huge impact, but it’s a seed being planted that could grow into something good for all.”
The US Marine-turned-Paralympian, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury after a motorcycle hit-and-run accident in 2001, found a way to use his military background to pull himself out of post-injury depression and turn his life around, winning five world titles and four Paralympic medals.
As a motivational speaker, he encourages people from all walks of life to break down mental limitations that hold them back from doing the things they want to excel in.
“It is my hope to inspire and motivate into action. I would say: ‘Never sell yourself short or out of the game,’” Sanchez said. “The body and mind are capable of so much more than you know. You have 20 times more talent than you can imagine. But like the body, the mind too needs to be trained and developed to achieve greater heights.”
His specialty has been the time trials, which he hopes to excel in this upcoming road World Cup.
At the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships in early August, Sanchez recorded official speeds of up to 91kmh in his time trial and 93kmh in his road race. In the time trial, Sanchez took the silver behind Italy’s cycling sensation Alexander Zanardi but ahead of South Africa’s very own Ernst Van Dyk.
“I’ve always been a speed junkie and have a long history with pushing the envelope,” said Sanchez, whose five world titles include three in the time trial. “Couple these guts with great bike handling skills, and my 86-plus kg weight, and you have one fast individual on a bike, which is why the [time trial] has always been my strong suit,” he said.
Sanchez suffered a crash earlier this month, which resulted in fractured ribs and a minor concussion. He is taking the time that he needs to recover and hopes to regain full strength in time for the World Cup in South Africa.