In 2008, Greg Miller was burned out after decades of elite cycling and racing. “I was sick of it. I bought a race car and I thought that’s what I was going to do.” Before he could use that car, he received an e-mail that changed his life.
“It was an invitation to attend a training camp to learn how to race on a tandem bike with a disabled rider. This was unusual. I had bought my first tandem in 2001, and my family rode it all the time. I attended the eight day camp with blind and other disabled athletes at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. It was a transformative week. It changed my outlook on everything.”
Greg says, “Being sighted on the back of a tandem is scary, but blind riders really get into it. The University of Tennessee used to have a camp for vision impaired little kids. They would play team sports, ride horses, and go fishing, but cycling on the tandem was always their favorite activity.”
In tandem paracycling, the able bodied cyclist is the pilot. The second rider, who has some form of physical impairment, is the stoker. One of Greg’s regular stokers is Tim Jones. They met at the Harpeth Bike Club in Nashville, and began racing together three years ago.
Last year, the duo overcame adversity to win a timed state trial championship. Starting the race with a snapped chamber cable meant they couldn’t shift riding up the small hills. Greg says, “I was dragging Tim at the turnaround, and we were the first tandem. Later, at the bottom of a hill, we were in second place. Tim’s legs started cramping. I told him to keep peddling. At the top a hill Tim vomited. Now that his stomach was emptied out, it freed up his blood flow. It was like riding with a different person. We won by over a minute. We even beat some able bodied cyclists. I told Tim, ‘Today you learned what your potential is.’”
Greg noticed a void in racing opportunities for young or beginner riders. With the help of several sponsors and volunteers, Greg created the first Tennessee Paracycling Open. This three day event in mid-May was held in Oak Ridge one week before the U.S. Nationals race in Chattanooga.
Twenty-seven cyclists participated, including four Paralympians. Two of the paralympians were from Cuba and Columbia. Greg says the Open “exceeded all my expectations. This was the only multinational paracycling road race in the USA this year.”
The Open included paracycling coach Jason Kimball’s “How to Race” lecture, a short road race, and a 40 mile timed race. Riders, including wounded Veterans, with a variety of experience and abilities, competed on bikes, tandems, and a trike. Numerous hand cyclists raced on recumbent bikes.
Vision impaired stoker Davian “DJ” Robinson has been cycling for five years and racing for three years. “I didn’t know what I was getting into when I first began tandem racing,” he said. “It’s painful, it’s fun, and it’s an adrenaline rush.” Robinson already had track and field, ballet, and yoga experience, but he said, “Developing as a cyclist takes time and patience. I met Greg in 2008, and he has impacted my life through cycling and meeting other disabled people. I wish I had met this guy sooner. I love every opportunity to be around him. It’s good that he has created the Tennessee Paracycling Open. It gives newer riders a chance to feel what racing is like. My first race was at the 2013 Nationals and my time was the worst.”
Shortly after the May Paracyling Open, Greg immediately attended or volunteered at: the U.S. Nationals, CX Worlds, the Volkswagen U.S. Pro Cycling Championships, and the 2015 Handcycling Criterium Championship. Just for fun, he lead some tandem teams on a Chattanooga mountain bike trail.
Greg recently returned from another paracylcing camp and race at the Olympic Training Center. This year, Greg’s athletic wife, Karen, volunteered at the camp. Together, the couple have covered many miles while cycling, kayaking, and long distance hiking. Their indefatigable joy for life is an inspiration.
Cover Photo: Greg Miller (left) and Ryan Boyle(right) at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
© Knoxzine, 2015.