After a driver high on marijuana and Ecstasy plowed into Tony Pedeferri on Dec. 19, 2007 and left him with major spinal injuries, he thought his cycling days were done.
Before the accident, the Redmond native regularly competed in various cycling events including the Derby Days Criterium. He had also participated in a number of triathlons and Ironman competitions, including the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, which he competed in three times.
Making the adjustment from a very active athlete and California Highway Patrol officer to a quadriplegic was not easy. This was made all the more difficult when the 1989 Redmond High School graduate began rehab and doctors — who knew of his background in cycling — suggested Pedeferri try handcycling.
He barely moved 10 feet during that first attempt.
“(I thought), ‘Well, athletics is over,’” he said.
A NEW LIFE, A NEW RACE
It took a year — which Pedeferri described as “survival” as he relearned how to function — before he reconsidered handcycling.
He has never looked back, competing in his first race in May 2010. Now only two years after that first race, 41-year-old Pedeferri, who now lives in Camarillo, Calif., is headed for the London 2012 Paralympics later this month. He qualified while competing in the 2012 USA Cycling Para-cycling Road National Championships in June.
“It was a good feeling,” he said about learning he would represent the United States in the upcoming games.
Pedeferri’s parents Jon and Peggy Pedeferri still live on Union Hill where Tony and his two brothers grew up in Redmond and are very proud of their son.
An emotional Peggy said too many people in Tony’s situation let an accident rule their life, but her son changed his life. She said he calls Dec. 19 his new birthday — the beginning of his new life.
“He just embraced it…He has his dark days, don’t get me wrong. I mean, we all do,” Peggy said. “He’s an inspiration to the whole family.”
Part of that inspiration comes from the fact that Tony competes in the H1 category of handcycling, which is divided into four categories based on the athletes’ injury levels. H1 is for quadriplegics, the most injured in the sport.
Peggy said H1 handcycles have three wheels, one in the front and two in the back, and the athletes lay on their backs and power the vehicle with just their hands.
“(Tony’s) elbows miss the pavement by about an inch,” she said about how low her son is to the ground.
Tony said athletes only compete against others in their category and he is the only one from Team USA — among men and women — in the H1 category. A total of 17 handcyclists — nine men and eight women — from the United States are headed to London.
FIRST TRIP ACROSS THE POND
Tony’s parents, aunt, brothers Mark and Andre, wife and daughters will all travel across the pond on Monday to cheer him on in his first Paralympics.
Peggy said this will be the first time in London for most of the family and in addition to watching Tony race, they are looking forward to doing a bit of site seeing. The games’ Opening Ceremony is Aug. 29, but Tony doesn’t compete until Sept. 5, so they will have a few days to enjoy the city.
Tony said if he is able to, he would like to see some of the older buildings in England and learn their history. But as he will be in London to compete, his time will be more limited than his family’s because he has to rest up for his races. He added that getting around in a wheelchair in England will also be a little more difficult.
“Europe is definitely not as accessible as the United States are,” he said.
THE BEST OF THE BEST
The Paralympics run through Sept. 9 and Tony will compete Sept. 5 and 7. The first event will be a time trial. The second will be a road race that will take place partly at Brands Hatch — an internationally renowned motor racing circuit in England’s Kent County — and partly on the county roads.
Tony said the time trial is 12 miles and the final road race will be about 36 miles.
Qualifying for the Paralympics has been especially satisfying for Tony because he said he is back competing at an elite level — just in a different sport. He will be competing against about two dozen men.
He said the Paralympics and similar sporting events for injured athletes are very important because it gives them a sense of normalcy and something else to focus on besides their injuries.
“You’re never away from (your injuries),” Tony said.
He said the Paralympics in particular also give injured athletes “a competitive outlet” and a viable and valid competition. Tony said the selection process they go through is just as rigorous as the one able-bodied athletes go through for the Olympics.
The level of performance is just as high, he said.
“It’s the best of the best,” Tony said.