Lean mean racing machine: Oz Sanchez

By Amy Rosewater | Sept. 04, 2012, 8:55 p.m. (ET)

Oz Sanchez
Oz Sanchez, one of the world's best para-cyclists, begins his quest for London 2012 Paralympic Games glory on Sept. 5.

Oz Sanchez, one of the most dominant athletes in the sport of para-cycling, issued this warning to his rivals, saying, “I’m definitely not at my peak yet.”

“I got the mean part down,” he said back in May, “but not the lean.”

Those can be even more intimidating words when you take this into consideration: Since winning gold and bronze medals in Beijing four years ago, Sanchez has won five world championships, placed first in the 2011 UCI Para-cycling World Cup Series and claimed two gold medals at the 2011 Parapan American Games.  Oh, and during this same time span, in 2010, he finished the Hawaii Ironman race.

He will be representing Team USA at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, competing in the men’s individual road race (H4 class) and the men’s individual time trial (H4) and the mixed team relay event (H1-4). The Paralympic Games began Aug. 29 and road cycling events start Sept. 5.

When he made his Paralympic debut in Beijing, however, he was not considered to be one of the medal contenders. He had only started hand-cycling competitively in 2006.

“I was a huge underdog for that,” said Sanchez, now 36, looking back on his Beijing experience. “Nobody had me on the radar until I won.

“Now, I’m on everybody’s list. I haven’t lost that race (time trial) since.”

Still, Sanchez isn’t taking his status as the heavy favorite lightly. Expected to be among his top competitors in London are Ernst Van Dyk of South Africa, who won the gold medal in the individual road race event in Beijing (Sanchez took the bronze in that race) and former Formula One race car driver Alex Zanardi of Italy.

Even with all of Sanchez’s success over recent years, he said, “I still have days myself where I’m just like, ‘I can’t believe I’m throwing it down with these guys.’ “

Sanchez, who grew up in Southern California, ran into problems with drugs and gangs. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines, where he said his life took a 180-degree turn for the better. He became part of the Special Forces unit of the Marines and was deployed twice to the Middle East. He decided to transfer to the Navy with hopes of becoming a Navy SEAL, but in 2001, he was involved in a motorcycle accident.

The accident injured his spinal cord and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Through his rehabilitation efforts, Sanchez was introduced to the Paralympic Movement and he started competing in 2006.

He credited the Paralympic program with helping him get through the depression he underwent following his accident.

"Once I started getting active again, started winning races, things like that, then it started bringing me back up,” he said.

These days, he works with other veterans in programs to introduce them to adaptive sports and spends much of his time training. In addition to cycling, he often cross trains on a rowing machine and in the weight room. On his chest is a tattoo that says, “Know no limits”. He clearly follows that mantra and will continue to do so as he hits the race course in London.

“I’m getting lean and mean, and I’m going to peak just at the right time,” Sanchez said. “I’m in better shape than I was in Beijing. I’m going for gold.”           

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.