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Disabled Cyclists Set Sights on London Paralympics

The 2012 summer Olympics will be held in London from July 27 to August 12. Then later in August, disabled athletes will gather in London for the Paralympic Games. Qualifying events have been under way, and paracyclists at last month's world championships have their sights set on London.

These athletes are at the top of their game. They faced off in Los Angeles in February for the Paracycling Track World Championships.

Craig Griffin, training director for the U.S. paracycling team, said most of these competitors have moved beyond their disabilities.

“They cope every day with everything that we do on a day-to-day basis and they do very well at it. So they've learned to adapt to opening a bag of potato chips, to hopping into a car, dealing with ill-fitting prosthetics,” said Griffin.

More than 200 athletes from 33 countries competed in Los Angeles.

Many had lost limbs. Others are visually disabled and ride tandem with able-bodied riders. Solo cyclist Jennifer Schuble, an American, is the reigning gold medalist from the 500-meter event in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. She suffered a training injury at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and lost some of the feeling in her feet, but she said that cycling has let her return to competitive sports.

“I was a three-sport athlete at West Point. I played soccer and I ran indoor and outdoor track. And so being physically fit has always been part of my life, and with cycling, I'm able to clip my feet into the pedals,” said Schuble.

American Sam Kavanagh, who lost his lower leg in a skiing accident seven years ago, says Europeans dominate paracycling and that the U.S. team will face tough competition.

“You've got your perennial favorites. When it comes to the [cycling] track, Great Britain's a pretty hard program to top. The Aussies always come flying. They're super strong. And you've got select athletes from other countries that have obviously upped the game,” said Kavanagh.

Getting ready for the London games takes training and focus, says Sarah Storey, a British Paralympic gold medalist in both swimming and cycling. She was born with a deformity in her left hand.

“I think we're just going to continue the qualification period as strongly as we can, and then go straight back into training and start building up on the road again, and just trying to make sure that we're fitter and stronger and stay healthy all the way through the hopefully decent British summer, and then welcome the whole world to London,” said Storey.

This summer in London, the world will be watching.