Handcyclist Barry Wilcox Rides Into His Dream At 2023 World Championships
by Paul D. Bowker
Barry Wilcox was at the top of his game nearly 30 years ago.
An able-bodied cyclist, he had won junior national titles in the time trial as a teenager. At 16 he made the junior national team. The native of Port Angeles, Washington, was headed for the world stage.
A serious car accident, causing a spinal cord injury, prevented him from getting there.
Until this year.
Wilcox, who is now 45 years old and competing as a handcyclist in the MH1 class, finally made it to his first world championships, though it ended up being the Para-cycling world championships in August in Glasgow, Scotland. He won a bronze medal in the men’s road race and had a fifth-place finish in the time trial.
“It’s such an opportunity. It’s renewed, 28 and a half years later,” said Wilcox, a clinical exercise physiologist who is an instructor in exercise and nutritional sciences at Park University’s Arizona campus in Gilbert. “It’s just absolutely amazing.”
After struggling in world cup competition prior to this year, Wilcox found the fast lanes in 2023. He won his first world cup medal, a bronze, in the time trial at Ostend, Belgium, in May. He followed that up with a pair of third-place finishes in the world cup final in Huntsville, Alabama.
Then, he won the MH1 selection race in Wisconsin to make his first world championship team.
“This year was definitely the breakout year, I would say,” he said.
Suddenly, a lifelong goal of reaching a world championships is turning into a goal of making the U.S. Paralympic Team next year in Paris.
“That’s the hope,” Wilcox said. “That was never on the radar at all. The world championships were on my radar because it’s something I never got to do. Once this year came around, the performance significantly increased. It was just kind of like, ‘Wow, this is actually a possibility.’”
Getting that second chance drives a passion within Wilcox.
“You have no idea what is going to happen,” he said. “One year, three years, five years, 10 years down the road. Take care of yourself. Be consistent. Healthy habits. Healthy behavior, as well.”
Wilcox takes that message to his students at Park University, which is located just outside of Phoenix.
“It’s fun to share,” he said. “My goal is to teach them exercise and nutritional sciences. My goal is also to empower them to help them understand what they’re capable of, their career directions. Just help them be well-rounded and learn more.”
“It’s cool because I’m sharing the stories with them,” Wilcox added. “They inspired me. And I get to inspire them. The majority of all my kids are athletes in the program.”
This year, Wilcox joined PossAbilities at Loma Linda University, which offers a number of training programs for adaptive athletes.
“Being part of a team and organization such as this with its core values was a major motivator,” he said.
The car accident, which happened when he was 16 and a junior in high school, resulted in broken C6 and C7 vertebrae, a spinal cord injury and multiple skull fractures. In the months afterward, Wilcox took laps around his family’s driveway in Port Angeles in a wheelchair. He finished high school, then went on to Eastern Washington University for his bachelor’s degree and Oregon State University for grad work.
He remained physically active. He played wheelchair rugby in Portland, Oregon. Going to the gym was a part of his daily routine.
“Just very, very lucky to have the independence I do, the function I do,” Wilcox said.
Then, in 2006, he returned to cycling. This time, as a handcyclist and “just for fun,” he said. He trained indoors in sessions lasting up to an hour. He competed in some marathons.
But once Wilcox learned that an H1 class opened up for competition internationally, he went global with his cycling. He made his international debut in 2016. The H1 class is for athletes with severe loss of trunk stability and leg function, and severely impaired upper limb function.
“Traveled to Germany and I got smoked,” he said. “Wow, that’s a bit of an awakening. Definitely an awakening to training, an awakening to just equipment and everything that people are using.”
Wilcox participated in one or two world cups each year, including this year. The difference in 2023, he said, were custom grips.
“The production of power was just so much greater,” he said. “We’re talking one to two miles an hour greater. Just absolutely amazing.”
Wilcox’s new power is on display in Arizona, where he joins up with other handcyclists for a weekly power ride in the Tucson area.
“Just riding outdoors with other handcyclists, just pushing each other for basically three or four hours,” he said. “It’s amazing. Just the speed. Just chasing higher functioning people, riding with them. It’s mind blowing.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to USParaSnowboarding.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.