Arkansas native Jason Macom has been cycling since he was a child, having fallen in love with bikes when he had a paper route in the sixth grade.
Over the years, he’s competed professionally as a BMX racer, road cyclist and track cyclist.
Next week, the 37-year-old will step into new territory, competing at the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships for the first time, just weeks after being named to the U.S. Paralympics national team.
From March 2-5, the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships will be held in Carson, California, just outside Los Angeles, one of the bid city finalists for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Sixteen athletes will compete for Team USA, including two tandem pilots and six cyclists with military ties. It will be Macom’s first major international para-cycling competition, and the first time the world championships are being held the year following the Paralympic Games. This is a significant step forward for the sport, too, as from now on, the UCI intends to hold the world championships every year rather than every other year.
While Team USA — the top-ranked para-cycling nation in the UCI’s track, road and overall standings — has a hoist of experienced riders, Macom is brand new.
In fact, he was just named to the team at the beginning of February after an eight-year break from competitive cycling.
The hiatus began in the summer of 2009, when Macom suffered a bad ankle injury that would haunt him for six years and ultimately lead him to amputate his leg below the knee. While playing a game of bicycle polo, he had taken a weird fall into the wall and severely broke his ankle.
With that came a lot of complications and a lot of surgeries. The blood vessels inside the bones near his ankle were compromised, and over time, they eventually collapsed and died.
His mind was still elsewhere, though.
“During the months leading up to my amputation, I had it in my mind that I wanted to be an athlete again and wanted to be active, and thought it would be possible with the modern-day prosthetics,” Macom said.
He did his homework on the sport early, researching all the top para-cyclists he’d potentially compete against. He envisioned becoming the United States’ version of Great Britain’s Jody Cundy, a four-time Paralympic cycling champion who exemplifies what a below-the-knee amputee can achieve on the bike.
Macom didn’t waste any time in getting his journey started.
“From the very first day that I got my very first prosthetic leg, I went straight home and put a cycling shoe on and got on the trainer and started riding my bike with the hope of being a competitive cyclist again,” he said.
Macom’s first para-cycling competition was the U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Open in February of last year, and while he has yet to make the podium at an event, he already considers himself a strong enough contender to be a Tokyo 2020 Paralympic hopeful.
In Los Angeles, he’ll compete in the C4 1-kilometer time trial at 4km pursuit at the VELO Sports Center, which houses a Siberian pine 250-meter track that hosted the 2012 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships and 2005 UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
With it being Macom’s first major international competition, he’ll use it as a gauge to see where he ranks and what he needs to do to get to the Paralympic podium in three years.
Leading up to the event, Macom’s been a busy beaver, working as a barber off the track. The job, which he considers more of a trade, allows him to have the flexibility to make his own schedule that’s conducive to his cycling training.
Balancing the contrasting pursuits, Macom splits his time between being “artistic and having conversations” in the barbershop and being “internal and focused” on the bike.
And while he likes to keep the two separate, he hinted a mash-up could be in store for the world championships.
“I should start bringing my things to the track to cut everyone else’s hair on the national team,” he joked.
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.