Corey Lovato on riding his handcycleOctober 29, 2023
Written By Corey Lavato
I remember sitting in a hospital bed in the early summer of 2007, realizing the ski season had ended and the ski resorts in Colorado would soon be opening for the summer sessions. I wondered if I would ever go back to those places—assuming I even wanted to—and rekindle my love of nature through my love of adrenaline. I had just broken my neck snowboarding in March and was occupied adjusting to my new life as a quadriplegic.
Most of those days were spent ferrying between the different departments at Craig Hospital, a facility specializing in spinal cord injury rehabilitation, in order to learn the skills I would need to live with paralysis. It was important work—physical therapy, wheelchair skills, getting onto a plane, but it wasn’t what anyone would call exciting. The classes all predictably blurred together after a while.
There was one day that still stands out in my memory more than the others, though. One sunny June day I went to recreational therapy, a class that sought to connect individuals with spinal cord injuries and the world of recreation. That day I went to rec therapy and they strapped me into a handcycle, a low rider three-wheeled bike moveable with a hand-powered crank rather than pedals for the rider’s legs. I admit to being a bit hesitant riding along the narrow streets and being so low to the ground, I spent the whole ride terrified that a passing car would flatten me like a pancake.
It didn’t take long to realize why this was worth it though. Once I had found the right conditions, a flat straightaway with sparse traffic, I felt comfortable enough to see what the bike could do. What it could do was move, and I mean move. For the first time since I had been snowboarding I felt the wind rush through my hair, watched the scenery blaze by, and felt the excitement of knowing that I was speeding through the world again. I knew immediately that I needed one in my future.
It took 15 years (I had to give priority to getting through school, finding a car, and getting a stable job first), but in September 2022 I finally checked that box off my list. I didn’t just get a handcycle, I got the best off-road handcycle I could find and suddenly had a three-wheeled passport to the outdoor world.
The first time I took it out I flipped twice cruising the rolling desert hills in north Phoenix. Apparently you can forget how to ride a bike when it’s on three wheels and you only have your arms to move it. I was more than happy to practice though, and over the next few months I figured out my new ride while exploring the parts of Phoenix that had previously been off-limits to my wheelchair.
By summertime I was ready for a real challenge, which I got by celebrating my 36th birthday in Telluride. I brought the handcycle and had an absolute blast roaming the mountains again in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I rode through the woods, I forded a stream, and I held on for dear life riding next to a cliff the size of a New York skyscraper. I breathed the fresh, clean mountain air and slept under a blanket of bright stars after each day’s ride. I can’t wait to go back and see more, or to explore the rest of the outdoor world. I already have a list of national parks that are on my list.
In the meantime, my favorite new pastime is my weekend rides with my dog Meeka. The only thing happier looking than me tearing through the park behind the wheel of the bike on a Saturday morning is the expression of unbridled joy she gets when we let her off leash and it’s time to chase. I guess she just likes the freedom to roam and run free, leaving her worries behind while she opens up and sprints outside. I can absolutely relate.
“GoHawkeye helped unlock the adventure in my weekends. Thank you so much!”– Corey Lovato