U.S. wheelchair rugby player Seth McBride grew up an outdoors kid in Juneau, Alaska, where he could often be found skiing, mountain biking or rock climbing.
And when he wasn’t exploring, he was deep-seated in adventure books.
“Being from somewhere like Alaska, where there aren’t any roads in or out of town, it fosters a want to explore,” McBride said. “You don’t really have easy options to go travel when you’re growing up in a place like Juneau.”
So while this month’s trip to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games might seem exotic for some athletes, for two-time Paralympian McBride, it’s just another chapter in his real-life adventure book.
The U.S. wheelchair rugby team will have a lot to prove in Rio after leaving the 2014 world championships with a bronze — its lowest finish at a world championships since the tournament began in 1995 — and having to settle for silver at the 2015 Parapan American Games in Toronto.
Australia and Canada have given Team USA fits over the last few years and are expected to be the other two favorites in Rio, but McBride barely wants to bat an eye at the competition.
“We’re not focused necessarily on what teams we’re going to be playing,” McBride said. “We’re prepared to play anyone and prepared to have to beat everyone in order to get where we want and to be right there on top of the medal stand.”
McBride is familiar with the podium, having been a part of the gold-medal-winning U.S. wheelchair rugby squad at the Beijing 2008 Games and bronze-medal-winning team at the London 2012 Games.
It’s taken a decade and a half for the 2.0-classification player to finally be considered one of the go-to veterans in the game.
It started in 2000, when McBride became paralyzed at 17 after over-rotating a backflip while skiing in Alaska. Not long after, he purchased his first handcycle to stay active, but he also wanted to find a sport with more intensity, and one he could participate in year-round.
That’s when he came across a wheelchair rugby highlights video from the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. He immediately joined a local wheelchair rugby club, saying “there was just something about the intensity and speed of the sport.”
McBride quickly made his way through the ranks, winning world titles with Team USA in 2006 and 2010, all while earning an international studies degree from Oregon and spending three months in El Salvador teaching English to local residents.
Wheelchair rugby also introduced McBride to his now-wife, Kelly, a former collegiate athlete turned healthcare professional who works with patients who’ve experienced life-altering injuries.
She previously volunteered as an occupational therapist for the U.S. wheelchair rugby program, meeting McBride for the first time at a wheelchair rugby training camp in Brazil. The pair turned into a couple after reuniting at the Beijing 2008 Games, adding another main character to McBride’s adventure book.
After winning gold in Beijing, McBride backpacked with friends for nearly three months through Southeast Asia — his last trip without Kelly.
In 2009, the venturous duo spent a month cycling through Ireland, and because they loved it, wanted to plan for something even bigger.
The couple’s biggest adventure came in 2013, when they cycled 6,500 miles over eight months from their current home in Portland, Oregon, to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. With just their bicycles and a trailer, they wheeled through the panoramas of California, Mexico, Ecuador and Bolivia, stopping to interact with the local communities and teach them about the importance of physical activity and movement.
“It was one of those big things that had been stuck in my head for a long time,” McBride said. “For whatever reason, I had always been a big fan of adventure books and big expedition literature. I had read a lot about big trips, and a big trip was always something I had wanted to do.”
McBride, who holds a master’s degree in nonfiction writing, is now working on a book about his “Long Road South” and other adventures.
With an irreplaceable beginning to his tale — meeting Kelly in Brazil — McBride will now return there hoping to bring his story full circle with a perfect ending on top of the podium.
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.