Disabled Guyanese cyclist takes challenges in stride
April 26, 2018
With all the adversity he has faced since racing competitively with one hand in the last decade, nothing fazes Guyanese cyclist Walter Grant-Stuart.
He arrived in Toronto to a wild winter week with freezing rain, an ice storm and snow that restricted him to training indoors in the basement of his coach Wayne Henry’s residence as he prepares to ride in the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) - sanctioned C1 Para-cycling event at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montreal on April 28 and 29.
Though not prepared for the wintry weather, Grant-Stuart didn’t allow it to hamper his preparation to ride in Canada for the first time.
“It’s cold and nasty, but I came here to do a job and nothing is going to stop me,” he said.
This is the first time Grant-Stuart, who is sponsored by Ansa McAl Trading (Guyana), is competing against riders with various disabilities.
Since losing his right arm in a motorcycle accident 12 years ago, he has ridden against able cyclists.
“Some are deaf and mute, but I am the only one racing with one-hand,” he said.
That, of course, presents challenges.
When it’s time get his water bottle or shift gears to pedal relatively comfortably, Grant-Stuart has to take his hand off the cycle. The bike gears are on the right handle which means he has to reach across with his left arm.
“That was a huge challenge at first,” said the firefighter who loved watching the sport prior to the accident. “Without my dominant arm, I had to learn to do everything with the left hand.”
While taking part last year in the 120-kilometre Tour of Tobago, Grant-Stuart caught the attention of a female Canadian commissionaire.
“She suggested I could be a para-cycling world champion based on my ability and strength,” he said. “I didn’t take her seriously at first, but she kept insisting that I try at least.”
Grant-Stuart contacted Henry, who he met in Guyana a few times, to help with his training for the event.
“I have been working with a Guyanese cyclist (Paul DeNobrega) for the last eight years and had seen Walter ride in a few races,” he said. “I was amazed with his strength and endurance but felt he needed some guidance. Training hard is one thing, but you have to do it right to beat the top riders who are fully dedicated to the sport.”
The rider, whose training regime includes at least three training sessions totalling about 400 kilometres every week, reached out to Henry in early February for a structured training program.
“Once he got it, he contacted me every night to bring me up to date with what he had done that day,” said the former Guyana cyclist who migrated in 1976. “I could see the amount of time he was training for, the speed he was reaching and his heart rate development. This guy was putting in the time and work and I knew this is someone I could work with because he wasn’t taking short cuts and trying to waste my time.”
Henry is amazed that Grant-Stuart, who competed in last year’s Thanksgiving Turkey Ride in Miami, has had success racing against able cyclists.
“When it comes down to strength, power and focus, there really is no difference between him and them,” he said. “They are athletes who all want to win. The main difference is when he wants to sprint to the finish line in a close race, he needs both hands to provide the power. As an endurance rider, it’s in his best interest to wear out the field and build a lead so that he wouldn’t have to be involved in having to sprint to the finish. He would likely lose most times in that case.”
Another obstacle emerged when Grant-Stuart learnt that he wouldn’t be able to ride the bike he brought to Canada to race.
“The seat tube is damaged and while you can ride in Guyana with that, it’s not allowed here in a UCI event,” said Henry.
The gloom quickly turned to euphoria when twins Rick and Rob Din, who migrated from Guyana in 1991 and established the Bicycle Depot on Albion Rd. six years later, presented Grant-Stuart with a brand new bike, helmet, shoes and other accessories.
As the weather improved, the cyclist went outdoors to get a feel for the temperature.
“The cold air is heavy and it slows down your breathing,” Henry pointed out. “It puts a lot of stress on your heart and you have to adapt. It’s like training at high altitude.”
In a warm-up event last Sunday against able cyclists at Calabogie Motorsports Park in eastern Ontario, Grant-Stuart suffered a nasty spill with about two laps to go.
“He was doing pretty well before the fall and he is banged up,” said Henry. “The reason I took him out there is because the track is similar to the one he’s going to be racing on this weekend.”
Despite the accident, the cyclist is expected to be ready for the 26-kilometre time trial on April 28 and the 60-kilometre road race the next day.
Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve is a 4,361 metre long car racing track that has hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix du Canada since 1978. It also hosts cycling events.
The competition, comprising time trials and road races, allows cyclists to accumulate points for their world ranking.
Grant-Stuart hopes to take part in the UCI Para-cycling road world championships in Maniago, Italy from August 2-5.
A Go Fund Me campaign has been initiated to raise $5,000 to help him compete in the international event.
Donations can be made through www.gofundme.com/walter-grantstuart.