Handcyclist powers through Tour de Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com

Handcyclist powers through Tour de Steamboat

Austin Colbert

Colorado Springs resident Drew Wills talks to fellow cyclists while sitting in his handcycle following Saturday's 12th annual Tour de Steamboat charity ride. Wills is paralyzed from the waist down after breaking his spine in a ski accident 10 years ago.

— It took Colorado Springs resident Drew Wills a long time to break away from his cycle following Saturday's 12th annual Tour de Steamboat charity ride. The 110-mile trek, which took him through three mountain passes, did nothing to take away from his cheery disposition and willingness to greet anyone who wanted to say hello.

After all, that was the main reason he wanted to take part in the event in the first place.

"It's great to be out and enjoying something with everybody else. I love the social part of it now as much as ever," Wills said. "It's one of the things I wanted to do. I cycled a lot before I got hurt. I kind of wanted to make getting back into cycling — a big goal for me."

His injury isn't obvious when you see him sitting in his handcycle. The arms power the bike as opposed to the legs, with the person sitting lower to the ground. The number of people competing in handcycles is so few there aren't yet age divisions, meaning the 56-year-old Wills often has to compete against much younger men.

Some prefer handcycles to a traditional bicycle out of sheer enjoyment or for a new challenge. For Wills, it's his only option if he wants to get back on a bike.

"A little over 10 years ago, I had another skier kind of run me off a slope. I did not hit her; that would have been the easier thing to do," Wills recalled, not losing any of his positive charm. "I went around her and ended up clipping a tree that was sticking out from the tree line. I clipped my back and broke my spine, so I'm now paraplegic and have no feeling and no use of my lower limbs. Everything I've got, I've got from the waist up."

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It took Wills a long time to adjust to not having the use of his legs. However, his injury did little to dampen his spirit and love for cycling. His three-wheeled handcycle is an engineering masterpiece, made of lightweight carbon fiber and designed with the basic parts you'd find on a typical bicycle, only remodeled to be powered by the arms.

Wills said going uphill in the handcycle is a challenge, unlike anything you get from a bicycle, but its low profile and aerodynamic nature allows him to blow by most cyclists when going downhill or even on a flat straightaway.

"It's still a big challenge, but now I'm riding with the group, and that's fun. Then it's about cycling. The conversation is about cycling, not about your injury," Wills said. "You just learn to maximize what you have. Had a guy one time tell me, 'You just do what you can with what you have.' And that's kind of my motto. … It's a blast. I love riding, and I love getting out. It's something that gets in your blood, and you never lose."