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Wheelchair athletes ready for the return of the River Bank Run

Handcyclist Steve Chapman hopes to inspire and improve his time from previous races.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — After missing 2020 due to a pandemic cancellation, the River Bank Run is returning to Grand Rapids. Thousands of racers will gather downtown for what organizers call the "largest 25K in the country." The first athletes to cross the finish line for the 25K race won't be runners, but handcyclists and racers in hand-pushed wheelchairs.

One of those handcyclists is Steve Chapman. He was paralyzed from the chest down at age 19. 

"Going from 6’4” walking to being told you’re in a wheelchair for the rest of your life," he said. The injury made him think his life was over.

A few years later, he moved to Grand Rapids and discovered wheelchair athletics. It started with wheelchair basketball, but it quickly grew to include adaptive skiing, and more recently, handcycling. He can still remember his first River Bank Run like it was yesterday.

"It was unbelievable the butterflies I had," Chapman said. He remembers asking a ton of questions at the starting line while side by side with more experienced racers. "Then I watched them just pull away from me. I pedaled as fast as I could and continued to watch them pull away from me,” he said with a smile.

He's improved over time, coming first in his age group at the last River Bank Run. The adaptive athletes start their race ahead of traditional runners as a safety precaution. "I'll probably be averaging 20 to 24 miles an hour," Chapman says.

He says the experience for an adaptive athlete at the River Bank Run is unlike any other. 

"I do lots of different races," he says. "The River Bank Run really rolls out the red carpet for us.”

Chapman says he's most excited to pass along the mentoring he received from more experienced racers his first few times around. He says the biggest piece of advice he can give: A paralyzing injury doesn't need to spell disaster for the rest of your life.

"Whatever you used to do before your accident," he said. "Put your mind to it. You can figure out a way to do it again.”

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