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How This Lesbian Handcyclist Is Chasing Her Paralympics Dreams

How This Lesbian Handcyclist Is Chasing Her Paralympics Dreams

Nothing keeps Ryen Reed from pursuing her dreams — not a disability, not a serious traffic accident, and certainly not homophobia.

Reed, 31, is a multisport athlete with a particular love for hand cycling, which is just what it sounds like — the use of a bicycle or tricycle powered by the hands and upper body. She has always been athletic, even though she was born with hip dysplasia, and as a child, she was diagnosed with spastic diplegia, which is a form of cerebral palsy. She’s gone through 15 significant surgeries and extended hospital stays.

But, Reed says, she never wanted to be treated differently from anyone else. She started playing softball at age 9 and kept on playing until tearing both of her Achilles tendons when she was in high school. “I’ve always been a very outdoorsy kid,” says Reed, a native of Riverside, Calif.

Giving up softball didn’t mean giving up sports. Reed has since become an avid hand cyclist; she trains and competes year-round, and she has done the AIDS/LifeCycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles four consecutive years. She’s also participated in triathlons (which include cycling, swimming, and running or walking) and has played wheelchair basketball.

This year Reed had her sights set on qualifying for the U.S. paracycling team for the Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo (paracycling includes hand cycling and the use of other types of cycles). She took third place in the trials but did not make the national team.

“I would’ve had to have a better race than every single athlete competing,” she explains. “I did not want to give up, though, so I still gave it my all. I left it all on the course and am proud of my performance. It gave me motivation and confidence for the rest of my season.”

Undaunted, Reed went straight from the trials, which were held in Minneapolis in June, to Milwaukee, where she and her Women’s Challenged Athlete Foundation team competed in a four-night race series called Tour of America’s Dairyland. As an individual, she was the overall series winner, and her team performed well too, she reports, putting everyone in good stead for the Paracycling National Championships in July in Boise, Idaho.

Reed, who came out as a lesbian in her teens, says she’s encountered some homophobia in her athletic pursuits, and she even recloseted herself at one point. But on the whole, she hasn’t let bias stand in her way. She has rebounded from other challenges as well — while in Colorado Springs a few years ago to train at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, she was hit by a sport utility vehicle while she was on her bike.

Her athletic career, she says, is not just about accomplishing goals for herself; she hopes to inspire others too. Her advice to them: “Be yourself. Just live your life the way you want to live.”

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