Ross Wilson's harrowing (but rewarding) journey to the 2016 Summer Paralympics

It’s amazing that Ross Wilson made it to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Paralympics at all, let alone earned 2 silver medals.

An internal auditor at NAIT, Wilson joined Canada’s Paralympic team as a cyclist 3 years ago after shedding more than 100 pounds. The 34-year-old’s weight maxed out at about 300 pounds after he was diagnosed with Charcot Marie Tooth disease 6 years ago. The condition causes the nerve tissue connected to his arms and legs to slowly deteriorate, affecting his mobility.

But that wasn’t the only obstacle he faced on the way to his first Paralympics and, ultimately, the winners’ podium. In fact, Wilson almost gave up hope of ever competing again after 2 terrifying accidents, one which almost took his life.

Death defier

In June 2015, Wilson was preparing for the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup race in Switzerland. A car backed out of a parking stall and struck him while he was cycling around 30 kilometres per hour. He flew through the back window, breaking his clavicle, some ribs and vertebrae and requiring hundreds of stiches.

“I narrowly avoided death,” says Wilson, whose coach immediately administered first aid.

Remarkably, Wilson competed 3 months later at the Toronto 2015 Parapan Am Games. But disaster struck again. A crash during a race left him with more than 100 stiches in his shoulder, forcing him to temporarily leave the sport he was so passionate about.

“I was really contemplating whether or not I would ever compete in Rio,” says Wilson. “But I am really proud of how I picked myself up.”

In Rio, Wilson’s silver-medal performance in the men’s 3000-metre individual pursuit set a Paralympic qualifying record. It was Canada’s first medal of the games. Edging him out for first was Zhangyu Li, a para-cycler from China who won in a world-recordbreaking finish.

Wilson's second silver medal came in the men’s 20-kilometre race, an event he hadn’t competed in since his injury. He credits his coach, who was able to follow in a car, for helping motivate him. During the last lap – at speeds of around 50 kph – Wilson remembers him yelling, “You’re 3 seconds away from silver!”

“You find a way to dig a little deeper when you find out you can move up the rankings,” says Wilson.

Back home in one piece

Today, he’s working with his coaching team to improve on the performance in Rio and prepare for the 2017 UCI Road World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa next September.

In the meantime, however, he’s enjoying being back in Edmonton. When he returned to work in September, Wilson found that his colleagues had decorated his office door to congratulate him on his success.

“It has been really illuminating to see how proud people are of how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved,” said Wilson. “It’s been great to see that kind of support."

4 facts about the 2016 Paralympic medals

  • Each of the 2,642 medals has tiny steel balls inside. Gold, silver and bronze each rattle with a unique sound so visually impaired athletes can identify the colour. Wilson’s silver medals contain 20 balls, while a gold medal has 28 and bronze has 16.
  • Also to aid and honour visually impaired athletes, each medal bears the words “’Rio 2016 Paralympic Games” written in Braille.
  • Each medal weighs roughly 500 grams (just over a pound).
  • Each medal comes in a wooden case made of Brazilian freijo wood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.



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