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updated: 8/29/2012 7:01 PM

Cyclist from Arlington Hts. aims for Paralympic gold

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  • David Swanson, front, and Clark Rachfal, compete in July 2011.

      David Swanson, front, and Clark Rachfal, compete in July 2011.
    Courtesy of Cathi Swanson

  • Alyssa Gialamas of Naperville trains at the Waubonsie Valley High School pool.

       Alyssa Gialamas of Naperville trains at the Waubonsie Valley High School pool.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Berenyi of Oswego trains for the London Paralympics at the Pella Windows building in West Chicago.

       Joe Berenyi of Oswego trains for the London Paralympics at the Pella Windows building in West Chicago.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Joe Berenyi of Oswego trains for the London Paralympics in West Chicago.

       Joe Berenyi of Oswego trains for the London Paralympics in West Chicago.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

  • Video: David Swanson & Clark Rachfal

 
 

When Cathi Swanson was running behind her son, David, all those years ago, teaching him how to ride a bike, she couldn't know he'd eventually be speeding past her and almost everyone else in the world.

David Swanson grew up riding his bike around Arlington Heights, pedalling to Hersey High School and getting around the suburbs on two wheels instead of four.

This week David Swanson, 35, will race on the international stage as one of the few able-bodied athletes on the U.S. Paralympic team, pedalling the front half of a tandem bike team with his partner, Clark Rachfal, who is 90 percent blind.

The 2012 London Paralympics opening ceremony was held Wednesday in London, where Swanson is one of several Illinois athletes trying to bring home the gold over the next few weeks.

Other suburban Paralympians include Joe Berenyi, a fellow cycling team member from Aurora and Alyssa Gialamas, a swimmer from Naperville.

This year the Paralympic Games will have more television coverage in the United States than before.

NBC Sports Network will air one-hour highlight shows at 6 p.m. Sept. 4, 5, 6 and 11. Following the close of the games, NBC will broadcast a 90-minute special at 1 p.m. Sept. 16. Paralympic.org will also have live coverage of the 2012 team throughout the games.

While some fans will be tuning in from abroad, family members and friends of the athletes have traveled to London to support their stars.

Cathi Swanson is in London, ready to watch David and Clark race for the Men's Individual B Pursuit gold medal on Thursday, Aug. 30 and in the 1 km time trial on Sept. 1.

Though racing speeds for Swanson and Rachfal can reach 40 mph, Cathi said she isn't as concerned about injury as she would have expected.

"Most mothers think 'Don't go too fast, you'll hurt yourself,' but at this level you're cheering him on to go even faster and faster," she said.

The duo that met at a training camp and live across the country from one another -- Swanson in Arizona, Rachfal in Maryland -- only train together about once a month, but they have said their working relationship and friendship helps get them ready for competition.

The duo hasn't missed qualifying for the track and road World Championships since 2009 and narrowly missed out on a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics.

The pair, and other suburban Paralympians, have been in London for the past week or so preparing for the games and marched in Wednesday's opening ceremonies representing the United States.

"I'm honored that I have been asked and entrusted to guide Clark around the track and on the roads on his tandem bicycle, and to work with him as a partner," David said Wednesday via email from London.

He said the two are "more excited than anxious" for competition to get under way.

"Working with the U.S. Paralympic program has taught me a great deal about strength and respect. We're all unique, obviously, but seeing all the different ways that these athletes adapt their prosthetics and their equipment to compete in sport has been impressive," he said. "What struck me was that my teammates are bike racers first, and disabled athletes second."

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