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Putney Handcyclist Alicia Dana To Compete In Rio Paralympics This Week

Chuck Burton
Vermonter Alicia Dana at the U.S. Paralympics Team Trials in Charlotte, N.C., in July. Dana will be competing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Paralympics this week.

Vermont's own Alicia Dana is going for it again: The handcyclist from Putney placed fifth in time trial in the 2012 London Paralympic Games and now she's in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, racing in the time trial and the road race.

The 47-year-old most recently won silver in both those events at the 2015 World Championships.

Alicia Dana joined VPR from Rio, where she’s set to compete in both events this week.

On expectations for this week’s competitions:

“This is my second shot at the games: I have that London experience under my belt and I think that will help me a lot this time around. I’m definitely hoping to medal and I think I have a pretty good shot at it. Whether it's bronze, silver or gold, who knows, but I'd be thrilled to be up on the podium and I think there's a good chance.”

On representing the U.S. in Rio:

“There's a lot of pride, for sure. I felt it, I think this trip most particularly yesterday, because the whole cycling team rode out to the road course from the Paralympic Village. And you know, there we all are in our various forms of bikes — handcycles, tandems, trikes — all wearing the stars and stripes and passers by were waving and cheering to us. And you know, you feel good, you feel really proud to have a team that's backing you up and proud to be representing the USA.”

On her journey to the Paralympics:

Dana competed nationally as a teenager in both cycling and cross-country skiing until the late 1980s, when she fell out of a tree and was paralyzed from the waist down. She says it took a little while for technology to catch up with her athletic goals.

Credit Susan Keese / VPR/File
Dana with her daughter Willa in 2012. Dana took a break from racing after Willa's birth in the early 2000s.

“I love cycling and bike racing and Nordic skiing,” Dana says. “I grew up doing both of those sports, and then at 17 … I had this accident — became paraplegic. And back then it was the late '80s and handcycles were not even invented yet. So I spent a little time doing some wheelchair racing, marathons and that sort of thing, which was OK; I enjoyed it somewhat.

"But when handcycles came along in the mid-'90s and I got my first one, there was no looking back. It just felt great. It felt felt like being me again, like a part of me that had come back together again. I became part of a group that rode across the U.S. to raise money for some different nonprofit organizations. And one of the people in that group said to me, ‘Alicia, you know, you should really race. You're strong, there's not many women doing it.’ And I was like, 'What? There’s races? Yeah! Sign me up!’

“So I started racing in 2001 and made the national team then and went to the World Championships and raced again in 2002,” Dana says. “But then I got married and got pregnant and had my daughter and got divorced. All in short order, so I had to take about eight or nine years off just to kind of catch up with that side of things and then got back into racing again in 2011.”

On the types of Paralympic cycling:

“There's many different categories for cyclists of all different disabilities. We have upright cyclists who are on what you would think of as just a regular bike — who may have an amputated limb or a deformity of some kind. And we have people who have issues like M.S. or traumatic brain injury, might have some balance problems, and they will race on trikes, really awesome, cool racing trikes. Then we’ve got people with visual impairment who race on tandems. So they have a seeing pilot and the visually impaired person is the stoker in the back.

“And then we have people like myself, who are on hand cycles ... people with spinal cord injuries or double amputees. And within that category of hand cyclists, there are five different subdivisions depending on your level of injuries.”

On competing in 2020:

Dana, who is 47, says the Rio games will likely be her last Paralympics.

“There's always a chance, but [the 2020 games] feels like a long way from now,” Dana says. “And I think if if anything, I'll stick around for a couple more years of World Cups and World Championships, but I don't really think at this point I'll be aiming for Tokyo in 2020.”

Dana will be competing in the Rio Paralympic Games on Wednesday Sept. 14 in the time trial and Thursday, Sept. 15 in theroad race.

Alex was a reporter and host of VPR's local All Things Considered. He was also the co-host and co-creator of the VPR program Brave Little State.
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