PUTNEY — A local woman, who trains six days a week, is a full-time single mother and will soon be heading to Rio for the Paralympic Games, does this all from her wheelchair.
Alicia Dana, 47, began competing at the national level in cycling at 16 years old, but it was the following year that her athletic career was adjusted when she became paralyzed from the waist down after falling from a tree at the Putney School, where she was a student. She learned to live with her disability and picked up hand cycling, making her first U.S Paralympics Cycling National Team in 2001 and competing at the World Championship in 2002. Dana was one of seven female cyclists named to Team USA for the London 2012 Paralympic Games, then in 2013 and 2014, Dana established her rank on Team USA with medals at World Cup events, and in 2014 she became World Time Trial Champion.
This year Dana will head to southern California on Aug. 25 for some final training and then will compete in Rio on Sept. 14 or 15.
"I would certainly be thrilled to get on the podium. There are at least four other women who are pretty strong, who are potential medal winners. I would be thrilled to get up there," said Dana.
Para-cyling is a sport that includes road or track events for athletes with a physical or visual disability. The sport has been present at the Paralympic Games since 1984.
Dana said she works out six days a week year-round. Over the winter months that involves a few days at the gym and/or on a stationary trainer in her garage at home. During the spring and summer she mostly trains on her bike outside on Route 5 or other paved roads. The training during these months involves endurance rides up to two or three hours as well as shorter interval training. She notes that much of the training involves keeping her equipment up to date and communicating with her coach who is out of southern California, Rick Babington, one of the national team coaches.
"This made me more like me," said Dana, "There is freedom and independence in riding my bike which is difficult to achieve in a wheelchair."
While Dana feels passionate about biking, she noted that not all media outlets necessarily give the sport the attention she thinks it deserves. She added that anyone who has access to watch this sport, will benefit "by inspiration. The Olympics are incredible and this is that with a different story and angle thrown in with overcoming physical challenges. Para-Olympians range from a lot of military veterans to people that just had an accident, people with a visual impairment, people born with a disability and amputees ... and to see them compete despite those odds and achieve amazing results, is just a human story that would be inspiring for many to see."
Dana said she personally loves feeling challenged and strong through the sport. She also loves it because it has introduced her to other people who are in wheelchairs but also athletic and active.
"It's a nice community to be a part of," she said.
The support of the community has certainly helped Dana reach her goals, but she noted that much of her strength in overcoming difficult situations is through mental preparation.
"I experience feelings of pressure, wanting to perform well, but to overcome self doubt, I mainly just use a lot of positive self talks and maintaining confidence because of training and past results which have been good on the international level. I stay confident because I know what I've done and what I'm capable of."
Dana encourages others to participate in the Paralympic games if they feel trained and called to do so.
"If someone felt they wanted to compete, I would encourage them to do it. It's not for everyone, but it has tremendous benefits and if it's something one feels pulled toward, it's likely they have talent, drive and the ability."
She further noted there are more men than women who compete in the Paralympic Games and she wants to reach out to more women with disabilities. Dana said that anyone interested in learning about the sport or staying updated with the race, should visit www.paralympic.org
While Dana is very busy training for the Paralympic Games, she also raises her 12-year-old daughter, Willa, in Putney. She said her plate is full doing this all from a wheelchair.
Dana has lived in this area since she was about 7 years old and said she has a lot of people to thank, including the entire community. In 2011 the community held a fundraiser, raising $10,000 to help buy her a high-tech racing bike after her previous one was stolen.
Beyond that, Dana thanks her mom, Veronica Brelsford, and her dad, Edmund Breslford, who recently died, for their "incredible" support around her athletic endeavours. She also thanks Willa.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275