Oswego man 'back to being dad' after golden Paralympics
A day after coming home with the three medals he won during the Paralympic Games in London, Joe Berenyi wasn't focused on cycling.
The 43-year-old Oswego man mowed the lawn while his gold, silver and bronze medals sat on the kitchen table.
"I am getting back to being dad," the father of three said during a Tuesday evening break from his household chores.
Berenyi's wife, Jill, says it's "weird to be back into normal mode" after a week where her husband showed an international audience how far he's come since losing his right arm and left kneecap in a construction accident 18 years ago.
"He was the one winning the races," Jill Berenyi said. "But it's as much of a reward for the family as it is for him."
Joe Berenyi, who grew up in Aurora and was a standout athlete at Aurora Central Catholic High School, fell in love with cycling before the August 1994 accident. He returned to the sport about five years ago when neighbors began riding to get in shape and encouraged him to join them.
Once he started cycling again, he grew stronger and faster -- and eventually won gold medals in national competitions. In June, he earned his spot on Team USA for the Paralympic Games.
"I just kept a positive outlook and knew what my goal was," said Berenyi, who uses an electronic gear-shifting system to change gears. "I just kept working toward the goal."
Berenyi was rewarded early during the Paralympic Games when he won the gold medal in the 3-kilometer individual pursuit on Aug. 31.
He finished with a time of 3:37.912, with less than a second separating him and the silver medalist. In addition, Berenyi set a world record in the qualifying round with a time of 3:36.148.
"I went faster than I ever did in practice," Berenyi said. "Then again, it was the real deal with a stadium full of people. That's the way you hope things happen. You have your peak when you need it."
Jill Berenyi and the couple's three daughters -- Syd, 11; Gwen, 8; and Tatum, 7 -- were watching in the stands during the golden moment.
When Berenyi's mother noticed that Tatum was crying during the medal ceremony, she asked the child what was wrong.
"Tatum said, 'I'm just so happy for my daddy,'" Jill Berenyi recalled. "It was just unreal for the kids to witness what Joe accomplished."
Jill Berenyi said her husband appeared calm and didn't seem stressed as he went on to earn a bronze medal in the track cycling mixed sprint and a silver medal in the individual time trial.
"He was just enjoying the games," she said.
The experience was improved by the support he received both online and in England. People were asking Berenyi for his autograph and taking pictures of him on the streets of London.
"I kind of felt important," he said.
Still, nothing could prepare the family for the welcome home they got on Monday in Oswego.
"There was a police escort and firetrucks and a ton of people at our house greeting us with banners," Jill Berenyi said. "It was amazing."
On Wednesday night, Joe Berenyi got to hang out with fellow cyclists during a training session at a technology park in West Chicago. He brought his medals with him.
Berenyi said he doesn't like wearing all three medals at the same time because they're heavy and uncomfortable. He learned that during a Monday visit to a local high school.
"They were all clinking together," he said. "I think I got a little dent in the bronze one."
On Thursday, Berenyi is going to travel to Washington and join other U.S. Paralympic athletes for a Friday event at the White House.
"I don't know if I'll actually get to meet the president," he said. "But I will be in the White House while he's there."
As for what's next for him, Berenyi says he plans to keep cycling.
"I guess I made it to the top step," he said. "Now I've got to focus on some other goal."