International Day of Persons with Disabilities: para-cyclists speak out

December 3 marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which this year calls for improvements to be made in a post-pandemic world.

The 2020 theme of this annual international day is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World.” 

It is a pertinent theme for cycling’s para-athletes, who this year have had to deal with a drastically reduced racing calendar, the postponement of the Tokyo Paralympic Games and, for some, restrictions forcing them to carry out their training alone within the confines of their homes.

But over and beyond the sport, our para-cyclists wish to use this international day to highlight the plight of disabled people worldwide.

Germany’s Denise Schindler is three-time para-cycling UCI World Champion on the road and track and Paralympic medalist in London 2012 and Rio 2016. She has urged people to be aware of challenges faced by those with disabilities, pointing out that the coronavirus pandemic has led many to be even more cut off from society than usual: “People with a disability belong to a much higher risk group so challenges in daily life like grocery shopping have become a much bigger challenge because they have to try to avoid contact as much as possible.”

She said that a positive outcome of the coronavirus pandemic has been the greater awareness of others, prompting the desire to help them: “This is very good for the future to help us become a more inclusive society. Right now, we have to take care of each other, we have to take a step back from our own wants and needs and belongings, with the same goal in mind to reduce Covid-19 and live a normal life again.”

Denise Schindler concluded: “Every one of us is disabled, and I mean that in a very positive way because everyone has something they can’t do and everyone is unique and we have to learn to embrace that and love each other and respect each other.”

Meanwhile, multiple para-cycling UCI World Champion and Paralympic Champion Dame Sarah Storey will fly the flag for inclusion when she takes part in next week’s inaugural UCI Cycling Esports World Championships against some of the best able-bodied athletes in the world.

In an interview during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the British para-cyclist, who sits on the UCI’s Athletes’ Commission, said the unprecedented situation had highlighted the strong qualities of athletes: “Everyone has built a new level of resilience and this will certainly stand them in good stead when racing resumes,” she said of the cyclists she mentors on her team Storey Racing,

As for the post-pandemic era, Storey said it “would be good to see the return of sport as an opportunity to address the pre-pandemic inequalities.” 

The promotion and development of para-cycling is an important element of the UCI’s Agenda 2022, and UCI President David Lappartient declared: “The UCI is continually working with its National Federations, its Continental Confederations and the International Paralympic Committee to ensure para-cycling is an integral part of the sport of cycling.

“This year more than ever, our para-cyclists have had to draw on their strength of character and determination to overcome the additional hurdles thrown at them due to the coronavirus pandemic. It has been an extremely difficult year and I sincerely hope that this International Day for Persons with Disabilities will be a catalyst for greater things to come in 2021 and beyond.