Verizon employee Clark Rachfal is headed to London to compete in the 2012 Paralympic Games.
When it comes to the Olympics, we all have dreams.
Clark Rachfal had them as a kid until fate intervened with a diagnosis at age 4 of Leber's congenital amaurosis, a rare disease that caused his eyesight to steadily degenerate. He is legally blind now, though he has some peripheral vision.
But some dreams − especially Olympic-sized ones − don’t die easily, and today, Rachfal is getting ready to compete as a cyclist in the Paralympic Games, which begin Aug. 29, two weeks after the London Olympics.
"I chalked this up as a pipe dream as my vision deteriorated," said Rachfal, who’s worked in the Washington, D.C. office of Verizon’s Public Affairs, Policy and Communications group since Dec. 2006. "With this competitive outlet and opportunities available through U.S. Paralympics, it is now possible for me to achieve that childhood dream.”
The Paralympic Games, first held in Rome in 1960, are the largest sports competition for athletes with a disability worldwide. This year’s games are expected to be the biggest yet, with 4,200 athletes from 165 countries competing in 20 sports.
Rachfal began competing in 2007 as a blind tandem cyclist with his sighted pilot, Dave Swanson, who he met at a developmental cycling camp in 2006 hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Tandem racing events feature two-person teams on tandem bicycles. A sighted pilot (in this case, Swanson) occupies the front seat, while a vision-impaired “stoker” (Rachfal) takes the rear seat.
They qualified for the U.S. Para-cycling National Team in 2007 and just narrowly missed qualifying for the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Team in 2008.
In 2009, they competed for the first time at the road and track world championships in Italy, where they placed fifth in the time trial and then crashed in lap two of the 10-lap road race. Undaunted, they headed to the Para-Cycling World Championships in Manchester, Great Britain, and became world champions. For Rachfal, it was one more step on the way to the 2012 Paralympics in London.
He and Swanson took another large step last year when they earned the overall UCI Road World Cup title and a time trial bronze medal from the UCI Road World Championships.
In June, Rachfal and Swanson competed and earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic cycling team. Rachfal called it “validation of all our hard work.”
“I want to show others that no dream is out of reach," Rachfal said.