As six-year Navy veteran Will Groulx laid in a hospital bed in 2001 recovering from a motorcycle accident that paralyzed him from the waist down, it never crossed his mind that he could one day overcome all odds to become a gold medal-winning Paralympian.
But now, the six-year Navy veteran is training and competing with the U.S. Paralympics national cycling team with a goal of competing in his fourth Paralympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.“When I was in the Navy, my goal was to travel around the world to serve my country and experience a lot of things,” Groulx says. “Now, adaptive sports has helped me recover from my injury and allowed me to continue seeing the world."
To be able to continue traveling the world playing sports and representing my country at the highest level has been a huge honor and blessing.
Getting to know adaptive sports.
Groulx began his Paralympic career not in para-cycling but in wheelchair rugby, a sport he says was a natural transition for him in adjusting to life in a wheelchair.
“It was the perfect transition for me, as rugby is a full-contact sport in which contact is not only allowed but encouraged,” he says. “Adjusting to life in a wheelchair, at first there was a lot of frustration, but I was able to vent those frustrations through the sport, and learn through the wealth of information from my teammates.”
It didn’t take long for Groulx to dominate the sport of wheelchair rugby, earning team medals including one gold as part of the U.S. team for the Athens, Beijing and London Paralympic Games.
Staying competitive after the games.
After retiring from international competition in rugby after the 2012 Games in London, Groulx knew he did not want to give up on competition altogether. A nudge from his friends led him to consider competing in handcycling, a sport he was introduced to in 2002 as a method of cross-training.
“I started racing in 2012 and was immediately introduced to Paralyzed Veterans Racing,” Groulx says. “It was such a great group that it really pulled me into the sport.”
Not only that, but Groulx realized the potential for handcycling to not only fuel his competitive spirit but enable him to continue his active lifestyle well into the future. “It’s definitely a tough sport but not as hard on your body as rugby, so I feel I can handcycle and continue to be competitive for as long as I can ride a bike,” Groulx says.
Aside from his Paralympic medals, Groulx has a number of other achievements, including his win of three medals including gold in the men’s H2 time trial at the 2014 UCI Paracycling Road World Championships in Greenville, SC, in Aug. 2014. In February, he will begin the 2015 season with Team USA, competing around the world, in countries including the Netherlands and Switzerland.
Groulx also is a Nike-sponsored athlete and a 2009 nominee for an ESPY Award as best male athlete with a disability.
Winning the race at home.
Still, despite all of the awards and recognition, Groulx contends his greatest achievement is simply being a hero in his own home to his wife, Amy, and their twins, Will and Grace.
They don’t see me as having a disability, they just see me as their dad.
“Everyone has bad days," he says, "and we can let things get us down, but my kids are probably the biggest reason I try not to have bad days because I’m trying to set an example for them.”
And he’s setting that example – both for his family and many of his fellow veterans and others with disabilities who may not yet realize the range of opportunities available to them. Even though he hopes for many more years as a competitive handcyclist, Groulx hopes to one day pay it forward helping other veterans through adaptive sports by becoming a sports director for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I’m so blessed because I get to be a kid, that’s my job – to compete and play,” Groulx says. “But at some point, I’m going to have to grow up, and I’d love to play a part in helping Paralyzed Veterans of America sports programs. I want to be a good role model, ambassador and mentor not only within our organization but in the community as well.”