Cyclists raise adaptive sports awareness

Published 6:51 pm Saturday, July 15, 2017

Three 16-year-olds cycled through Suffolk on Wednesday and Thursday on a mission.

The leader of the expedition, Owen Anketell, was operating a handcycle, while his two friends were on bicycles. Anketell has a condition called hereditary spastic paraplegia, which means the muscles in his legs aren’t strong enough to support him. He uses crutches and a wheelchair to get around most of the time.

But that hasn’t stopped him. He not only cycles on a handcycle but also skis, water-skis, golfs and plays tennis.

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“This summer I’m going to be biking from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla., to raise awareness for adaptive sports,” Owen said. “I wanted to go out and do this ride to show people and help everyone else that faces the problems with being disabled and thinking they can’t go out and do everything everyone else is doing, because there’s ways to adapt it to make everything possible.”

Anketell has been disabled since birth but started skiing when he was 3 years old. He lives in Hudson, Mass., and his family frequently visited a New Hampshire mountain to ski.

“It was such an amazing experience,” he said of his first time skiing. “After that first day, I fell in love. My parents started taking me up there every weekend.”

Anketell said he wants to bring attention to the fact that sports participation is possible for people with a wide range of disabilities.

“I think it’s a great way to do it just to show people I’m out there doing it right now,” he said.

He’s been stopping along the way to speak at hospitals and other groups about adaptive sports.

“Whether I’m talking with people that are disabled or people that aren’t, they can get out there and have the experience of a lifetime,” Anketell said.

He decided a couple of years ago to do something grand — something that had never been done before — to bring attention to adaptive sports.

“I wanted to go out and do something and be the first one to do it. No one in a handcycle had ever cycled from Maine to Florida,” he said. “We had to raise $50,000 to do the ride. We started probably in 2015.”

In addition to raising money, Anketell had to train to get physically fit. He got a personal trainer and went to the gym to get in shape.

He and his cousin, Bryce Coffey, and friend, Matthew Farrell, started riding from Maine on Memorial Day weekend. They rode three weekends while they were still in school, which took them near home, and then left straight from there three days after they graduated.

Anketell and his friends leave in the morning and try to cycle about 50 miles a day while his father drives a truck with a support trailer to the next stop. Now that they’re out of the mountains, they usually meet in time to have lunch together.

This week, they passed through Suffolk and prepared for their ride in the morning in the parking lot at Kilby Shores Elementary School.

“It’s a whole different place down here, compared to Massachusetts,” Anketell said. “There’s a lot of open farm land, which we don’t see very much.”

The group has encountered deer and snakes and has made lots of good memories, he said. They plan to arrive in Key West on Aug. 20.

He said he hopes a lot of people learn about adaptive sports as a result of his journey down the coast.

“There’s a way to adapt for anyone in any situation,” he said. “You’ve just got to find the right people to help you get there. Anything’s possible.”