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Why Handcycling Was The Right Fit For Former Rugby Player Will Groulx

By Stuart Lieberman | June 22, 2016, 12:28 p.m. (ET)

Will Groulx switched to handcycling after winning three Paralympic medals in wheelchair rugby.

Will Groulx is already a three-time Paralympian in wheelchair rugby, and he’s now trying to qualify for the Rio 2016 Games in both a new sport and with a new “coach.”

His new sport? The U.S. Navy veteran switched to cycling three years ago, and he’s already won eight UCI world championship medals.

His new coach? Well, that would be his 6-year-old daughter, Grace, who just completed her first year of kindergarten.

“She cracks the whip,” Groulx giggled. “She puts pressure on me. She’s like, ‘So, you’re going to a race dad? Make sure you bring home medals.’”

Groulx, 42, is a stay-at-home dad to twins Will and Grace — yes, just like the TV show; he and his wife didn’t realize the coincidence until after their children’s birth certificates were filled out.

“Afterwards, one of the nurses said, ‘Oh that’s so cute, you named your kids Will and Grace. And we were just like ‘Oh boy. We just did that.’”

With Will and Grace fully clued in to their father’s goals, Groulx has all the support he needs as he trains full-time for the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Time Trial, which will take place on July 2. He’ll try to qualify for the time trial in the H2 classification on a fast 7.3-kilometer circuit course in Huntersville, a suburb of Charlotte.

The Portland, Oregon, native, who was injured in a motorcycle accident in 2001, switched to handcycling three years ago because he wanted to find an individual sport that would better accommodate his family, as opposed to a team sport with a more regulated training schedule.

“As much as I want to be the best competitor that I am on the bike, I also want to make sure that I’m the best dad that I can be for my kids,” Groulx said. “With cycling, I have a lot more control over when I train and the competitions I go to. I can pick and choose that more, and do that around my family’s schedule.”

In wheelchair rugby, Groulx powered Team USA to gold at the Beijing 2008 Games and bronze at both the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Games. His nine-year stint on the national wheelchair rugby team also included an ESPY nomination in 2009.

While he and other multi-sport Paralympians such as Alana Nichols make a sport transition appear seamless, it’s not as easy at it looks.

“Rugby was all about short, quick bursts; sprinting; speed and strength. Cycling is a lot more an endurance sport,” Groulx said. “When you do have a bad day in a team sport, you can kind of rely on your teammates to pick you up. When you’re having a bad day on the bike, not only physically is it a struggle, but mentally as well.

“It’s just you and the bike. It’s challenging yourself to stay in there and do the best that you can.”

This is the first time Groulx will attend an individual selection event for the Paralympic Games, having previously always qualified for wheelchair rugby by virtue of the team’s world championship title or world ranking.

Saying his chances look good would be an understatement. He finished the last two seasons No. 1 in the UCI world rankings for H2 men and won time trial gold at last year’s Parapan American Games in Toronto.

Groulx’s already constantly visualizing himself on the podium in front of his children at Rio’s Flamengo Park course, which is quite flat, meaning it will make for a lot tighter Paralympic race than a hilly or technical course would.

But if he emerges from the pack to make that vision a reality, Will and Grace will return to the United States at the end of September, ready to start first grade with a new story to share for show and tell.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Will Groulx