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Bikes Across Borders

Athlete cyclist pedals towards finish line.
Special Olympics Pakistan cyclist Zunaira Bl in the divisioning 500-meter time trial.
female cyclist high-fiving taller male coach
SO cyclist high-fiving her coach after competing in the 500-meter time trial in the divisioning portion of the World Games cycling competition.

On the surface, cycling may seem like an individual sport, but it takes a team to get competitors across the finish line. For Tracy Lea, the opposite is true. Her immediate family is comprised of Olympic and Special Olympics (SO) athletes including son Syd, a SO Maryland athlete who will serve as a cycling official at the Special Olympics World Games Berlin 2023. The majority of her time outside of work is spent supporting her family, cycling club members and Special Olympics athletes around the world.

Lea is a longstanding Special Olympics volunteer official for global cycling events. During the Special Olympics World Games North Carolina 1999, she couldn’t help but notice that some of the delegations competing didn’t have performance gear such as proper racing shoes and bike pedals. In the case of Special Olympics India (SO India) and Special Olympics Pakistan (SO Pakistan), the bikes were damaged during transport.

“The frames were crushed,” she explains. “They were shipped in cardboard boxes rather than hard cases.” So, Lea put the ask out among the other delegations participating at the Games to donate enough parts so that the cyclists from Pakistan and India could compete.

Tracy Lea

After seeing a repeat of broken and substandard equipment over the years, Lea reached out to companies prior to the Special Olympics World Games Los Angeles 2015 in the hopes they would offer support by supplying the India and Pakistan delegations with the bicycles and travel cases that were needed. By the 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi, she still had not secured the funding or items she was seeking. “My big disappointment was that I hadn’t figured out a way to help SO Pakistan and SO India. The athletes were great, but they couldn’t compete on a level playing field without adequate equipment at the venue.”

Finally, in 2022 after COVID-19 restrictions lifted, ROI Solutions Founder and CEO Gina Vanderloop stepped up with a financial gift of $10,000 which covered the majority of the costs for the eight bikes, eight helmets and spare parts that was needed for the two delegations to compete in the World Games Berlin 2023.

“Getting the cycles procured and delivered was a difficult task. There were numerous logistical hurdles, and it became evident how location plays such an important factor in determining opportunities. The playing field isn’t level, but this donation enabled by Tracy really demonstrates how we can break down barriers and the love of sport can make us a more inclusive world”.
Shruti Mehta
SO Iran cyclist biking
SO Iran cyclist in the 500-meter divisioning time trial.

“The quality of the cycles received by the delegations in India and Pakistan surpassed all their expectations. The athletes and coaches were filled with immense pride and are now eager to give it their very best at the games.”
Shruti Mehta

But money wasn’t enough. Lea quickly learned that buying and shipping equipment from the United States was expensive and required jumping over several customs hurdles. She turned to Special Olympics Asia Pacific Organizational Development Manager Shruti Metha to help source the gear in the respective countries of the athletes. The equipment reached the athletes in December 2022 in enough time to train with the bikes and helmets ahead of the Berlin Games.

At the suggestion of Special Olympics Vice President of Sport Development Jon-Paul St. Germain, Lea hosted a joint two-day coaching seminar for the coaches who will be traveling with their athletes to Berlin. They reviewed how to pack the cycles in the hard cases, and which were the most important key spare parts to bring along. Politically, Indian and Pakistan don’t always see eye-to-eye, but Lea noted, “In sports and in Special Olympics, it’s always all about the athletes.”

SO Pakistan cyclists and coaches huddle together for photo post competition.
SO Pakistan cyclists and coaches after time trials.

Lea has encouraged the SO Pakistan and SO India cycling teams to reach out to their national cycling federations to keep the momentum going beyond the 2023 World Games. In the meantime, she invites everyone to follow of the cyclist competing in Berlin this summer and, she’ll keep a special eye on the results of the SO India and SO Pakistan teams.

Preliminary Results as of 20 June

620AL HUSSEINI, MoamelSO Iraq16 – 21Male1:07.02
619ROUHI FARD POUR, Amir SadraSO Iran16 – 21Male1:58.71
618FARIDBAKHSH, MojdehSO Iran30+Female1:18.45
666TAHIR, MadihaSO Pakistan22 – 29Female1:13.95
660ALI, ZainabSO Pakistan12 – 15Female1:29.01
661ARSHAD, AminaSO Pakistan16 – 21Female1:17.60
662BI, ZunairaSO Pakistan22 – 29Female1:19.61

World Games cycling competition continues from21-25 July with final races taking place daily at the Brandenburg Gate cycling track circuit.

SO Pakistan athletic backpack being worn.
SO Pakistan backpack for Berlin World Games.

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