Community , Sports

Osage qualifies for Team USA at 2019 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships

Photo caption: Jason Macom, Osage, will represent Team USA at the 2019 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, March 14-17, in Apeldoorn, Netherlands. Team USA/Sean Shrewsbury

The U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, announced the names of 14 athletes who will represent Team USA at the 2019 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, March 14-17, in Apeldoorn, Netherlands.

Osage velodrome cyclist, Jason Macom, was on that list.

“Jason competed in the United States Paralympic Team selection events. He won a Gold medal in the Pursuit, Silver in the Kilo, Gold in the Scratch Race, which qualifies him for a spot on the United States Paralympic Team for 2019,” said Alisha Macom, Jason’s wife. “The journey toward the Olympic Games in 2020 is still alive.” 

The team, which features seven Paralympians, qualified at the 2019 U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Open held Feb. 2-3 in Carson, California, according to a U.S. Paralympics release.

Macom is based in Little Rock, Arkansas where he lives with his wife and daughter. However, due to the intense training he is undergoing in preparation for the Olympic Games, he is living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as a resident athlete and has done so since Oct. 1, 2019. According to the Team USA website, Macom also coaches the Central Arkansas Roller Derby when he’s home.

His story is one of loss, recovery and triumph. He shared his story with the Osage News. The following is an excerpt from Macom:

My name is Jason Macom. I am a 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Hopeful competing in velodrome cycling as a below-knee amputee.

My Olympic Dream started when I was just 7 years old. I can remember sitting at home watching Olympic track cycling and thinking that the cyclists competing where superheroes. They were flying around the track in the aero position with their crazy long-tail aero helmets and super suits in their country’s colors. I wanted to be just like those guys. I soon modified my bike with a tiny front wheel from my sister’s scooter, twisted my handlebars forward to the aero position, and made a cardboard aero helmet. The cul-de-sac where I lived became the neighborhood velodrome. Bikes have been part of my life since then.

In junior high I worked at the local newspaper, throwing papers from my bike and in high school I started racing BMX. I fell in love with racing and worked to progress to race at the highest level and in 2004 I turned Pro. During that year I heard that a few top BMX guys were switching over their focus to race on the velodrome. That dream from when I was a kid popped back into my head and didn’t go away. I had never ridden a road bike, let alone a track bike, but I was determined to find a way.

With my BMX racer work ethic and the help of a few new cycling friends I quickly moved from a beginner road racer to racing in the highest amateur category. As a top amateur, I was able to do some racing with the professionals, one of the most notable races was the Athens Twilight Criterium. I then built up the courage to go to the velodrome and give it a shot. One ride on the track and I was in love. I went to Elite Track Nationals a few times and in 2009 I focused solely on track racing, but unfortunately, I didn't get the results to move forward with this sole focus. At the end of the season I decided to take a year off from traveling and focus on my career.

That summer I fell and seriously broke my ankle, fracturing the talus bone and dislocating the joint. The doctors put me back together, but the prognosis wasn’t good. Doctor after doctor told me that I’d be able to hobble along for a while, but ultimately the pain would never go away and that I would need a total ankle fusion. An ankle fusion would render me unable to ride bicycles, run, or walk normally. At age 30, I was being told that my days of riding a bike were over. I refused to believe them. I would not quit on those terms.

I did countless hours of research and pushed my doctors to try new procedures to find any type of solution. The major issue was that when the original fracture happened the vascular supply to the talus bone was severed and had not recovered. This caused a condition called avascular necrosis. I ended up having 6 surgeries over 5 years with the last surgical attempt failing. It was a sub- talor fusion, a fusion of the lower ankle. The hope was that the calcaneus bone’s vascular system would link up with the necrotic talus. The fusion failed, I could not walk, and I was in constant acute pain. At that point I knew what had to be done. I knew that the only option for me to live without all that pain and the only shot at ever riding a bike again was to amputate. I had to switch out my foot for a new model. During the time leading up to the amputation surgery I was desperate to find a way to make this ok in my head. I was so afraid. I followed the advice of a close friend and made a list of all the things I could not do that I would be able to do once I received a prosthetic. One of the top things on the list was “race my bicycle”. The column of what I’d be able to do far outweighed my fear.

My amputation was on July 22, 2015. I spent the entire 8-week recovery period learning who every Paralympic cyclist was, what their race times were, and what adaptive equipment they were using. I became obsessed with that line on my list. I couldn’t wait to be fit for a prosthetic. Little did I know that my first prosthetic fitting would be a devastating experience. The prosthetic was extremely painful and on the third step the socket snapped. I thought maybe I had made a huge mistake. Maybe I would never be able to do anything on that list.

Thankfully, I knew a couple of other amputees that advised me to find a different prosthetist. In my search I learned that one of the best sports specific prosthetists in the world lives near me. His name is Francois Van Der Watt and he is responsible for building Oscar Pistorius and many other top track and field athlete’s running legs. He has been Team USA’s prosthetist at the last 3 Paralympic Games. A friend sent me his number to text and he met with me the next day. I shared my dream of racing bicycles again and he believed in me from that moment and committed to helping me realize my dream. Francois made me my first walking prosthesis and I went straight home, put my bike on the stationary trainer, and rode for the first time as an adaptive athlete. It felt amazing to be spinning my legs again, but it was also clear that a cycling specific prosthetic was my next project.

The process of creating a cycling prosthesis is not something that is documented and there is no cycling specific prosthetic hardware available. I discovered that everyone using a cycling prosthesis had done what Francois and I were doing, which was going through a bunch of trial and error ideas and tests until we got something that worked. Francois created a socket like he would for a running leg, then I created an adapter plate that would interface between normal prosthetic hardware and a bicycle pedal clip system. Then I spent countless hours on the stationary bicycle with my close friend and master bicycle fitter, Scott Warren, making alignment and length changes. We were closely monitoring my overall fit on the bicycle, my power balance, and comfort with the prosthesis. All those years of working with bicycles and bicycle materials gave me the skills to work closely with Francois and Scott to create a solution I could really generate a lot of power with. I cannot imagine how frustrating or impossible it may seem for someone who is in a similar physical situation that wants to ride a bike but doesn’t have the resources to go through this trial and error process. Every chance I get I share what I’ve learned through all of this. I hope in the near future to be able to produce the prosthetic to pedal adapter plate and a documented process of how to set it up.

I was able to get back to racing bicycles in the Spring of 2016, just 7 months after the amputation. A year later, in the Spring of 2017, I was selected to race on Team USA’s roster for Track World Championships. There I placed 4th in the 1 Kilometer Time Trial and 6th in the 4K Pursuit. Later that summer I raced at Masters Track Nationals against able-bodied athletes in my age bracket and placed 3rd in 1K Time Trial and 4th in the Match Sprints. I was also able to go to Masters Worlds with Team USA Para-Cycling and raced to personal best (PB) times. At Para Track Nationals a few months later I hit another PB time in the 1K Time Trial. This Spring and Summer I’ve been racing road criteriums and time trials to rebuild my endurance. I’ve had some great results, some crashes, and some tough days on the bike; all part of being a bike racer. I placed 3rd at Para Road National Championships, but my best result was a second place at The Meteor Crits in North Little Rock’s Burns Park. I was also able to race with the Professionals at one of the USA Crit Series races in Bentonville, Arkansas. That moment on the start line was overwhelming. I was back, lining up to race at the highest level. I truly am living that line on the list.

It’s time to look forward to the next steps with a focus on the big goal of the Tokyo Paralympic Games. World Championships are in Apeldoorn, Netherlands at the end of March. I plan on racing USA Crit Series criteriums across the country during the summer months as well as Master Track Nationals and Elite Track Nationals.