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Together In Tandem, Para-Cyclists Chester Triplett, Michael Bissett Drive Toward Common Goal

By Joanne C. Gerstner | June 14, 2021, 10 a.m. (ET)

Chester Triplett and Michael Bissett compete in the 2021 U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open on April 18, 2021 in Huntsville, Ala.

 

U.S. Paralympic Team Trials Dynamic Duos, presented by Samsung is a three-part series of stories highlighting pairs on their journey to U.S. Paralympic Team Trials and the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.

 

Chester Triplett openly admits this path is not what he imagined for his life. He was going to be in the Army as his long-term career, and then retire decades down the road. 

But like most good stories, Triplett’s saga took a hard twist that changed everything.

He started losing his vision in the late-1990s, thanks to a degenerative macular disorder called Stargardt’s Disease. The serious changes in his vision also resulted in him leaving active duty to an honorable discharge from the Army in 2001. That turned his life toward college and finding different ways to live life.

Triplett took to Para-cycling, finding a great group in his hometown of Charlotte to ride with. 

That’s when the unexpected path really gets interesting. Triplett met fellow cyclist Michael Bissett, and they decided to team up to ride tandem about two years ago. They spent 2020 training, with races canceled due to the pandemic. They debuted this year, winning the road and time trial at the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in April. They were then 11th in the road race and 14th in the time trial in their first world cup race the following month in Belgium.

Next they’ll be competing on June 19 in the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials in Minneapolis.

“I’ve told my family that this is my priority right now, this is extremely important to me, Chester and my wife Emily,” Bissett, 32, said about their shared dream of reaching the Paralympics for Team USA. “Chester and I consider myself this part of a vocation. We want to do our very best and reach the highest level we can.

“Sometimes people say they don’t have the time to chase a big goal or a dream. We’re making the time. I want to see Chester, and I, reach the best we can be. I am honored to share this journey with him.”

Representing the U.S. again, this time as a Team USA Para-cyclist, is very meaningful to Triplett. He said his time in the Army made him proud to represent his country, and now he has a chance to do it again while chasing another dream.

“It was my intent to make the Army my career, so when I was honorably discharged, I felt like I left something there on the table,” Triplett, 42, said. “Flash forward, every time now I get the opportunity to wear the Team USA colors, I feel that same honor that I am representing and serving my country. It’s an awesome feeling, and we want to do our best to live up to that duty.

“And I also get to show what visually impaired and blind athletes can do, by competing and giving my best in these races.

Bissett and Triplett have formed a deep bond of friendship and unspoken teamwork. They rib each other, using their strong senses of humor to make fun of their mistakes on the bike. A successful tandem requires a ton of unspoken communication, from a small lean to a finger tap to listening to how the gears are moving. Having everything in sync brings success, while a small move at the wrong time can mean losing time.

The unexpected change of 2020 from a competition to a practice year, because of COVID-19, gave the dynamic duo more time to train. They now see that time as a blessing, pushing their skills and communication to a higher level.

“It’s not something you figure out right away, that is for sure,” Bissett said. “It takes a ton of time riding and feeling it together. You know when it works, but it takes time to dial that in, to the point where it feels automatic. We’re still improving every time on the bike, but I can feel how far we have come. It’s the little things that matter.”

Their relationship matters off the bike too, as Triplett relies on Bissett to be his eyes when they travel. 

No matter how Triplett’s journey in tandem ends, he said he is grateful to have the opportunity to compete and work toward a new dream. And having Bissett literally along for the ride makes it even better.

“I feel a sense of gratefulness, every time, when we ride,” Triplett said. “Knowing that we are making memories, doing things, and going places with this experience, is something that I truly appreciate. I know this will be in my heart forever, because having Michael with me in this has added to the experience. We truly are team.”

Joanne C. Gerstner

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for The New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for TeamUSA.org since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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