All about sports #9 – Cycling and Handbiking

To our regret, the Invictus Games cannot take place in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic but we are coming back! In 2022 the Invictus Games will still be held from April 16-22. And until then we will make the most of it together. The athletes of the participating countries who are facing postponement of the event will, with the support of all of us, continue to train for their favorite sports. Over the past few months, we have highlighted one sport each time on this site, based on interviews with Invictus Games participants. For the ninth and final episode, which is about cycling and handbiking, we spoke with Janno Lepik (Estonia) and Lindsay Thomas (New Zealand).

By Edward Swier

From wrestling to handbiking

At a younger age, Janno Lepik (now 36) was a wrestling talent. The Estonian competed in Greco-Roman wrestling and was a member of his country’s national junior selection. ,,So I did know what it was like to play sports at a high level and how to challenge myself. But after my accident on a mission in Afghanistan, I didn’t do any sports or training for a while.” Senior Sergeant Janno lost both his legs above the knee, when he was injured by an IED, an Improvised Explosive Device, during his second mission in Afghanistan. “In 2017, I started handbiking. The Estonian Defense Corps was putting together a team for the Invictus Games in Toronto and I decided I did want to be part of it. That’s why I started training again.”

“I enjoyed it right away. Handbiking is fun because you can do it outside. I feel the fresh air, I like being in nature. Of course the weather conditions change regularly and I sometimes train in the rain or wind but I like that too. The technique of handbiking is not very difficult but you need a strong upper body and especially strong arms. In the gym I concentrate on strengthening my upper body. It is important to train your balance as well. In the corners, at high speed, you have to keep good control over your bike and make sure you don’t fall.”

Recovering with the use of sports

Janno continues: During my recovery process, sports helped me a lot by pushing me in the right direction. Training has given me better stamina and it also enables me to keep my weight in balance. Moreover, I get a good feeling from training. In addition, exercising gives me a stronger body, which in turn helps me walk with prosthetics. I can remember when I came back from my coma, I didn’t even have the strength to lift my hand or sit up. Thanks to doing exercises, I recovered a little further each time. My body became stronger, I could do things myself again. Then I started doing sports and I became even stronger. That also had a positive side effect because if you get stronger and feel better, your mental condition also improves. You can handle a lot more things again.”

“Covid-19 didn’t change my athletic plans very much, by the way. Sure, the Invictus Games were postponed but I was able to keep training. I train an average of five to six times a week, I bike, work out and do sit-up skiing. Last winter we had a lot of snow in Estonia so I did the necessary indoor cycling training and skiing more often than usual. Of course all training camps and races have been postponed but I can still do my solo training on the handbike. Unfortunately there is no other handbiker in Estonia I can train with but In the gym, my coach is there. Because I am on the national list of Paralympic athletes, I also participate in the World Cup paracycling, I can also go there when the fitness rooms are closed to the general public.”

“By the way, I am looking forward to 2022, to the Invictus Games in The Hague. The fact that the Games have been postponed twice is unfortunate, of course, but the health and safety of the people is paramount. I therefore have respect for the decision to choose another date. Moreover, I adhere to the principle: the longer you have to wait for something, the more pleasure you have when it finally happens.”

Sports give you a purpose

In 2008, Lindsay Thomas (now 48) decided to buy a road bike when she was just back from a deployment to Afghanistan. “I was mainly going to do my daily commute to my work on it. And then maybe the occasional event, like a road race or triathlon.” However, the New Zealander has since taken up cycling much more seriously than he ever imagined. The fact that he is a member of the team competing in the Invictus Games plays a major role in that change, “I was doing it mainly for fun, had never done any serious cycling training before. The technique of cycling is of course not that difficult but it is a challenge to become fast. I also specifically concentrate on that aspect on the exercise bike and ergometer, then try to keep a steady pace.”

“These days I’m an electrician in the New Zealand Army, I started there at seventeen and was active two years later as a driver on a light tank. We had a night exercise, without lights and night vision, where we suddenly fell from a nine-meter-high hill. The Crew Commander was killed in that accident. The accident affected me greatly and still haunts me. In 1997, I retrained as an electrician” said Lindsay, who faced another setback in 2018. ,,I was diagnosed with cancer in my right kidney, surgeons were able to remove the kidney and the tumor, so I didn’t have to go through chemo or other treatments.”

Lindsay is also a very gifted karateka, practicing for this sport in Japan as well. Competing in four events at the Invictus Games, he has embraced sports as an important part of his recovery. ,,I have a lot of fun with it. And it helps a lot to improve your mental state. Sport gives you a goal, something to focus on.”

Training during the lockdown

During the strictest Covid-19 measures Lindsay Thomas, knowing that the Invictus Games were postponed but wanting to continue training, battled through it well. As a member of the defense staff, you’re used to abiding by rules and restrictions; on deployment, everything is strictly regulated as well, you adapt and move on.

I did have the misfortune that my road bike was at the base during the heaviest lockdown and I couldn’t access it during that period. I did have a mountain bike at home, which I used for training. I can now do most of my individual training, the long distances, on the road bike again. I often do my intervals on the ergometer bike in the gym. I often train on the ring road around and in the Linton camp, those roads are a lot safer than the public road.”

“In addition to cycling, I will be competing in rowing, powerlifting and hand archery in The Hague. I trained six days a week, I ended up setting up a sort of mini-fitness room in my own garage with all the gear I already had. In addition, one of our coaches managed to arrange for a so-called smart trainer for the cyclists within the New Zealand Invictus team. That is really a game changer, it allows you to train at home with others. It gave a whole new dynamic to our training,” says Lindsay, who incidentally has a slight preference for rowing if he has to choose from his four IG sports. “It’s short, sharp and you have to give everything in one minute in the short variety. I particularly like the cycling¬† because it helps to improve your fitness so much and because it has a low impact on your joints.”

Lindsay Thomas has been to the Netherlands before and is looking forward to reacquainting himself with the country. “It was heartbreaking that the event was postponed after all the training we had put in. It was also hard to stay motivated after that. It is nice that there is now a date for 2022 and that this uncertainty has come to an end. I’m really looking forward to returning to the Netherlands.”

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