Velodrome Dreams – Pro Para-Cyclist Talks Pan Am Games (from our new issue)

The following is an exert from the latest issue of dandyhorse

Velodrome Dreams: Pro Para-Cyclist Talks Pan Am Games (from our new issue)

Story by Claire McFarlane, Photo by Larry McDougall

Jaye Milley couldn’t ride a two- wheeled bike until the age of 14. It wasn’t for lack of effort. Milley was born with four under-developed limbs and is a quadruple amputee, which, once upon a time, made bike riding a challenge. Milley has, however, come a long way since then. The Calgarian is one of the top performing cyclists in Canada and has been on the national para-cycling team for the past five years. Now, Milley is gearing up to compete against some of the best cyclists in the world at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto this summer.

Until he was 13, Milley played competitive able-bodied soccer and had high hopes of eventually going professional, until he broke his kneecap during a game. Doctors told him the stop-and- go motions of soccer were too hard on his limbs and that he would have to stop playing. “This was devastating for a 13-year-old boy who wanted to play for Team Canada one day. It was like having the ground ripped right out from underneath me,” says Milley.

After the incident, his mom (who lives in British Columbia) went searching for another sport for Milley to take up since their household had a rule that every family member must be involved in at least one extra-curricular activity at all times. His mom stumbled upon a para-cycling program at the Olympic Oval in Calgary coached by Stephen Burke. Burke also happened to be the national team coach at the time, Milley recalls. Apparently, when they met, Burke told Milley that he would be riding a two-wheel bike within six months. Sure enough, Burke’s prediction became a reality.

With help from a local bike shop, Milley and Burke built a one-of-a-kind bike that worked well with Milley’s body. Because his left arm ends just below the elbow, Milley rides with a prosthetic arm that attaches directly to the bike. He uses his partial right hand to shift gears and because both of his legs end just below the knee, he uses customized prosthetics that are equipped with cycling cleats that allow him to clip in to his pedals. The bike is customized with what they call a “butt brake” it slows down the bike when he moves backwards in the saddle. This was clearly a dramatic upgrade to the tricycle Milley described as “60 pounds of raw steel,” that he used to ride around casually with his friends.

Milley fondly remembers learning to ride a two-wheel bicycle at the same time as his little sister. “We would go up to the local school and fall down together. We would get bumps and scrapes and bruises and we got to share in that milestone in a child’s life. It was really cool,” said Milley.

In his last year of high school Milley decided to pursue cycling full time. By that point, he had grown passionate about the sport. In his first year on the national team, he placed third in the 1,000-metre time trial, fifth in the 3,000-metre pursuit at the Track World Championships, fifth in the road race and sixth in the individual time trial at the Road World Championships.

These early victories in his career, according to Milley, are what helped catapult him into the elite level of para- cycling he is at today. He has since competed at the 2011 Guadalajara Parapan Am games where he placed fourth in the men’s one-kilometre time trial. Milley, however, feels that his biggest accomplishment so far was when he raced at the 2012 London Paralympics. Although he didn’t place, he described the experience as being surreal.

Milley gives partial credit for his success as an athlete to his grandmother who forbid him from using the word “can’t.” Whenever he caught himself or some- one around him saying, “can’t,” he would politely ask them if he could borrow the word, write it down on a piece of paper, then crumple it up and throw it away: Effectively disposing of “can’t” for himself or others as needed.

Milley says: “Sports, and especially cycling, is kind of about who can be more uncomfortable for the longest, and when you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you grow as a person and you become a better, stronger individual.”

The para-cycling athlete is one of the few athletes on the national team who competes in both road and track. Milley says it’s hard to pick a favourite, but that in road cycling, every day is like a new adventure, while he loves the track training. He suggests trying out a velodrome if there is one close by.

He is definitely someone to watch during this summer’s Parapan Am Games in Toronto. He has been training long and hard and is determined to do his country proud. “I will do everything it takes to be on the podium for Canada at these games because I’m at home.”

And while he’s out there doing his best, he is still taking the time to encourage others to participate in physical activity, no matter what one’s level of athleticism may be. “I would like to challenge people to not only get out and ride their bikes,” says Milley, “but to get out and go for walks and stuff like that. Movement is the key to life.”

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Mennonite Mechanic: Car-free in the country (from our new issue)

The Making of the Mennonite Mechanic Story

Issue 12 is out now! Sneak peek newsletter

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