When Joe Beimfohr was a kid, his uncle introduced him to competitive cycling. It didn’t stick—not until after the U.S. Army sergeant lost his legs in 2005.
“I still have nerve pain from my injuries, but when I’m riding there’s no pain at all,” this handcyclist said. “I think it’s because I’m enjoying the ride so much, I just don’t feel it.”
Beimfohr is, by many accounts, a world-class handcyclist who could represent the United States at the Paralympics one day.
“He’s an advanced rider,” said Geoff Hopkins, Associate Director of Sports and Recreation for Paralyzed Veterans of America. “He’s going to do well. I started training with him a year ago, and in that time he’s definitely increased his speed.”
Beimfohr also attracted the attention of Stuart Cohen, National Account Manager for Invacare, a committed sponsor of adaptive sports programs, such as the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Beimfohr rides an Invacare Top End Force K cycle.
“He’s one the top handcyclers,” Cohen said. “Just the dedication—what he’s gone through as a person, as a war hero. He’s a world-class handcyclist and has dedicated himself to that sport.”
In 2005, Beimfohr was with the 2nd Battalion 34th Armor Regiment when his unit discovered wires attached to the trademark weapon of the Iraqi insurgency: IEDs, improvised explosive devices. By then, insurgents had started using multiple IEDs to create cascade explosions that covered large areas. After disarming some IEDs, a fellow soldier Spc. Chris Dickinson and Beimfohr were following wires back to the likely hiding place of the insurgents when Dickinson stepped on and discharged an explosive. Dickinson died, and Beimfohr lost his right leg and half of his left.
“I definitely am appreciative and grateful for his sacrifice,” Beimfohr said. “If he hadn’t gone out front, I would have been out front and been on the IED when it went off. I didn’t ask him to go out front; he just did it. That was the kind of soldier he was.”
A chaplain helped Beimfohr put things in perspective. “Basically, 17 guys are alive today because of Chris’s and my sacrifice,” he said. “I’ve got to meet some. Some have kids now.”
During his rehabilitation, Beimfohr spent time in Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he met Mary Bryant, vice president of Achilles International and founder of Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Vets. That program got him involved in handcycling and out to his first major ride—the 2008 New York City Marathon.
“It took me about three hours to do,” he recalled. “It was my first race, and I thought it would never end.”
Bryant was quickly impressed by Beimfohr’s sheer grit and vision.
“I definitely feel Joe is a very driven human being,” she said. “Even after losing his legs, he didn’t just want to participate in races. He wanted to drive on and compete with the best of the best.”
Beimfohr is a member of Paralyzed Veterans’ handcycling team, and trains about 60 miles a week with Hopkins and others. He attributes his athletic dedication to his deceased grandmother, Jerry Shellaberger, who took him in when he was 13.
“I think the biggest factor is the way my grandmother raised me,” he said. “I started off playing baseball, and I didn’t like it at all. I sucked, and I knew I sucked. She said I couldn’t quit. She said, ‘When we start something we finish it’.”
Now 33-years-old, Beimfohr is mentoring athletes with that same stick-to-it attitude.
“I tell them just to try wheelchair sports in general,” he said. “Try them until you find one you like. You should get out and try as many of them as you can. Go to camps; go to races. The more guys we get, the more exposure we’re going to get.”
The next big race for Beimfohr is the 35th Marine Corps Marathon, in Arlington, VA, on October 31.
“For the first year or so, I was definitely riding to enjoy it,” Beimfohr said. “What I’ve learned this year is how to have a focus, a purpose on every ride.”
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