Ross Wil­son

Am­bi­tions be­yond the velo­drome

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - Q&A - By Dean Camp­bell

Ross Wil­son has de­vel­oped into a key player in Canada’s para­cy­cling team, earn­ing medals i n Par­a­lympic and world cham­pi­onship com­pe­ti­tions. This year, he took two gold medals while set­ting per­sonal best per­for­mances in the para­cy­cling track world cham­pi­onships. While win­ters in Al­berta can make get­ting on the bike chal­leng­ing, Wil­son is ded­i­cated to his sport, log­ging 15–20 hours per week on his bike dur­ing the cold months with an added four hours per week in the gym. In the sum­mer, he turns up the vol­ume, all while work­ing full-time as an ac­coun­tant.

“I had never done it be­cause of the Span­dex. You know, a 300 lb. guy in Span­dex doesn’t look great.”

How did you get started in cy­cling? Five or six years ago, I did a weight-loss chal­lenge with friends and dropped 110 lb. in a year. I needed an ac­tiv­ity that would help main­tain that weight loss. I loved cy­cling, and have watched the Tour de France for years, but I had never done it be­cause of the Span­dex. You know, a 300 lb. guy in Span­dex doesn’t look great. A friend had watched the Lon­don 2012 Par­a­lympics, where an Amer­i­can named An­thony Zahn, who also had Char­cot-marie-tooth syn­drome, was rac­ing. She sug­gested I might like rac­ing too. I called Sébastien Travers, coach of the na­tional team, and it all went from there.

What is Char­cot-marie-tooth syn­drome? The way my par­tic­u­lar it­er­a­tion of the con­di­tion works is that the sheath­ing that cov­ers my ner­vous sys­tem isn’t be­ing made any­more, and so sig­nals from my brain to the rest of my body are slow­ing down. The mus­cles don’t get the sig­nal and at­ro­phy nat­u­rally. I gen­er­ate my power through my thighs, hips and glutes, while my lower legs are at­ro­phied. My fin­gers work fine, but my grip strength is low. I can’t re­ally use my thumbs ef­fec­tively. When I am rid­ing my bike, if I go over a lot of rough ter­rain, my hands come off the bars. Brak­ing is also dif­fi­cult, so I have to be se­lec­tive on the equip­ment I use.

De­scribe your high­lights from track worlds ear­lier this year. The L.A. velo­drome re­ally suits guys with a lot of power, rather than leg speed, so it suited me well. I ended up do­ing re­ally well and set­ting per­sonal bests in both the kilo and the pur­suit. It was great to see I was faster than I had been in Rio and to win gold medals in both events. The goal will be to get even faster and race against a fuller field and still bring home the world ti­tles. What was your ex­pe­ri­ence like at the Rio 2016 Par­a­lympic Games? It was re­ally a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. The No. 1 sport was track cy­cling, so when we were rid­ing around the velo­drome, it was close to full. I did my pur­suit qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and the cheers from the crowd were just mas­sive. It was like watch­ing the movie Gla­di­a­tor when they’re fight­ing in the pit and the whole area is scream­ing for blood. That’s what it felt like as I was pulling up on my op­po­nent to pass. It was ab­so­lutely thrilling.

It was eye-open­ing to watch pow­er­lift­ing, where the Ira­nian ath­lete nearly matched the world record for able-bod­ied bench press. It was re­ally fun to see such amaz­ing per­for­mances by ath­letes who frankly get writ­ten off by a lot of peo­ple. I was re­ally proud of the re­sults we had, cy­cling in par­tic­u­lar. Tris­tan [Ch­er­nove] win­ning a gold, sil­ver and bronze. I got two sil­vers. There’s Charles Moreau’s two bronze medals in hand­cy­cling and some other great re­sults with the team. We proved we are still mov­ing up in the cy­cling world. It was ex­cit­ing.

What fu­ture would you like to see for paras­ports? My own am­bi­tion is that the paras­port move­ment gets recog­ni­tion as sport with­out the para as­pect dis­tin­guish­ing it as sep­a­rate. If you look 20–30 years in the past, there was a per­cep­tion that women’s sport was not equal to men’s sport, and now that has changed a lot. I’d like to think para sport can fol­low that same tra­jec­tory as women’s sport.

Ross Wil­son at the Rio Par­a­lympics

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