By Alan Morales, WTC Stratcom
Competition. It’s a fundamental aspect of athleticism that for some pushes them to achieve higher levels of excellence. For retired AW2 Veteran and handcyclist Joe Beimfohr, it was his electric, adrenaline-fueled, competitiveness that pushed him towards the finish line at Monday’s 2011 Boston Marathon in Boston, MA. Beimfohr’s performance landed him second place overall in the handcycling division and a personal best record, completing the 26.2 miles in 1 hour and 34 minutes. When asked what pushed him across the finish line, Beimfohr responded, “I’m just competitive as hell.”
On the phone, Beimfohr made his journey to competitive handcycling sound easy, casually explaining to me about the events that led to his achievement on Monday. I soon learned that Beimfohr spent years training, learning how to handcycle, building his endurance, and strengthening his body and mind to compete. Beimfohr’s first exposure to handcycling occurred in 2005 while recovering at the Malone House at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC. After looking out of his window one afternoon, Beimfohr noticed several individuals on handcycles. Curiosity sparked Beimfohr’s interest. Achilles International, an organization Beimfohr currently races with, periodically visits the Malone House to share with Warriors in Transition various adaptive sports, including handcycling. During one of these visits, Beimfohr got bit by the bug. Handcycling soon became a way for Beimfohr to tap the competitive drive that was bottled-up during the initial stages of his recovery.
Competition doesn’t just manifest itself on the road, for Beimfohr it also manifested itself during recovery. As a single man with most of his Family in Tennessee, Beimfohr spent the majority of his time at Walter Reed alone. This set of circumstances drove Beimfohr to push himself to work through his recovery as a double amputee more quickly. As Beimfohr explained, “A lot of times at Walter Reed, I’d see loved ones do everything for their Soldiers, often when they were capable of doing a certain task themselves. I’d think to myself—why don’t you let them push their own wheelchair?” Recovery became a chance for Beimfohr to compete against himself. He viewed his therapy and medical treatments as ways to beat himself. Each of these personal competitions offered a high pay-off for Beimfohr—one step closer towards being a more independent individual.
Inspiration was another ingredient for Beimfohr’s success. When I asked him what advice he had for other Warriors in Transition who may be just beginning their road to recovery, he responded, “The best advice was given to me years ago. Take the time to figure out what you always wanted to do. This is a second chance to start over. If you have drive, there are people out there who will support you and make that dream come true. You just have to figure it out.” This advice led him to pursue numerous goals, including his intent to organize a handcycling team for the Army Ten-Miler in Washington, DC in October.
Handcycling is an adaptive sport that enables individuals and athletes to ride a bicycle only using their upper-bodies. According to the U.S. Handcycling Federation, it is one of the newest competitions at the Paralympic Games and was included in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece in 2004. Handcycling is also one of the many ways athletes participate in the Warrior Games cycling competition. First held in 2010, the Warrior Games will be held in May and is a competition of wounded, ill, and injured Service Members and Veterans from all military services. Competitions such as the Boston Marathon are one of the many ways Warriors in Transition can prepare to become a Warrior Games athlete.