For handcyclist Oz Sanchez, Paralympic success is a “testament to who I have become”


Maybe that was over 30 years ago, and the bike he rides today may be different from the mountain bike he rode as a kid, but the sport’s appeal remains. the same.

Nowadays, cycling is also his career. One of the best hand cyclists in the world, Sanchez is a six-time medalist at three Paralympic Games and also has several world championship titles.

It was in the years following a spinal cord injury, suffered in a motorcycle accident in 2001, that Sanchez discovered the handcycle; the impact of sport on his life was immediate.

“When I first started riding, going around the block was a feat in itself,” he says.

“But it made me feel so alive from the adrenaline and pumping blood and just the healing chemicals from the workout.

“It got addicting, but it was still mostly the idea of ​​getting out of the house and releasing my frustrations with my broken back and the accident.”

Sanchez is preparing to compete in his fourth Paralympic Games.

“The journey, not the destination”

Having joined the United States Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of transitioning to the Navy as a Navy SEAL at the time of the crash.

“We’re talking about a transition from special ops, door kicking and hostage-rescue-type mentalities of military operations: you broke your back, you did permanent damage, you won’t walk anymore. never, ”says Sanchez.

“I mean, the idea that I was competitive at any level at that point was not on my mind at all. It was literally just so I could get out of the house and stop myself. to go mad. “

But over the years, Sanchez gradually switched to racing and was introduced to the US Paralympic team before Beijing 2008.

There he won gold in the time trial and bronze in the road race. Two Games and four more medals later, he is now preparing to compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games, noting that the way he views his success has changed over the years.

“I felt so broken and worthless because of my interpretation and perception of being a disabled person who cannot walk, these medals meant that I was still a successful person and therefore worthy of being. because of those medals, ”Sanchez said. , reflecting on how he felt after his first Paralympic Games.

“But now I don’t struggle with this depression and these ways of thinking anymore. My body may be broken in itself, but I’m not broken. And so now the medals are more a testament to who I have become.

“Instead of being attached or identified by my successes, I am more attached and identified by my ability to achieve those successes – the journey, not the destination.”

Tokyo will be the next stop on the journey, with the Paralympic Games starting on August 24.

Despite growing pressure in Japan to cancel the Games as the country recovers from a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, organizers maintain that the Olympics and Paralympics will continue with countermeasures in place to keep people safe. participants.
The Japanese city that supports South Sudan at the Olympics

As for Sanchez, he’s ready to embrace the situation the same way he does with most other challenges.

“The idea of ​​going to Tokyo or even traveling overseas, I don’t really feel threatened by a lot of these things because behind my back – and that obviously has a lot to do with my military background and my special ops mindset – – I almost want to throw it on myself just to prove to myself that I can handle it, “he said.

“It’s that very spartan, go-getter, pit-bull mindset. But from a social point of view, the question is what is ethically, morally most prudent and strategic to resolve and overcome this pandemic on the as quickly as possible… the answer is never clear and it is never easy. “

He adds that he is happy to let the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) “be the thinkers, and I do the action”.

THE 2028

Currently, Sanchez’s program involves a two to three hour commute, four to five days a week, around his home in San Diego County, California.

Besides being on the bike, her routine also involves other more unusual training aspects, like taking a cold shower every morning.

Sanchez hopes to add to his six Paralympic medals in Tokyo.

“I don’t even touch the hot stick at all… that’s protocol,” Sanchez says.

“No one likes to take a cold shower, and so if you learn to deal with those thoughts and that experience and that chaos that precedes jumping into that cold shower… you benefit from thought management.”

The birth of his son in September also means that Sanchez now has to balance training with the emotional appeal of being at home: “Sometimes I have to say, ‘No, no, we’ve got to stick to the plan. We can play with the little guy later in the evening, ”he says.

It’s a conflict of feelings that he’ll likely have to deal with for a bit longer.

As long as he stays healthy and continues to have the right support – Team USA was backed by pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics – Sanchez has no plans to stop the competition immediately.

“I would have said that the likelihood of me retiring after these Games was a possibility that entertained me, especially now that I have migrated to fatherhood and family and all that,” he says.

“But there were some opportunities that presented themselves to entice me to compete until the 2028 Games due to the nature of their location in Los Angeles… where the majority of my family is based.”

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