John Terrell competes in the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup in Elzach, Germany. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
When John Terrell won a silver and then gold medal for Team USA at a pair of Para-cycling world cup events earlier this month, it was simply the continuation of his lifelong love affair with the bike.
“Bikes have just been like a huge reoccurring theme through my life,” said the 27-year-old Terrell, who is originally from Converse, Texas. “I’ve just always been really passionate about bikes. I never outgrew it. I’ve always challenged myself with it. I just find bikes so fascinating.”
Terrell, the youngest of six children, didn’t let anything end that relationship, not even after he was hit by a car as a pedestrian at age 19 and eventually had his right arm amputated.
“My right arm was paralyzed,” said Terrell, who had been a BMX racer. “My goal while I was going through rehabilitation was to get better so that I could get back to riding BMX at that same level. But that wasn’t in the cards for me. It took me some time to accept that.”
Instead, he found his way into Para-cycling, where he competes on a standard bicycle in the C4 classification. The journey continued this spring when he was selected to his first U.S. roster for the world cup events in Belgium and Germany.
“Expectations were just to do my best,” Terrell said. “Honestly, I didn’t know if I was in contention for a medal. I didn’t know where my fitness was compared to other people.
“You can only focus on yourself and not get sidetracked, creating a plan and executing the plan. I get my start time and then I work backwards. I really do turn inward towards myself.”
Terrell’s process worked. The Colorado Springs, Colorado, resident took a silver medal in the first world cup time trial and upgraded to a gold medal in the second one. He also competed in the road race at each stop, taking second in Belgium and sixth in Germany (the Belgium C4 result wasn’t eligible for a podium spot, however).
“Just way too much fun for two weeks,” Terrell recalled. “Man, it is so surreal being in a road race or being on course and just seeing all the national (uniforms). It’s one thing to see it on the (TV) screen; it’s another thing to experience it.”
Terrell admitted to being somewhat surprised with his results.
“I’m just a big believer in positive affirmation,” he said. “With time trialing, it’s like you’re finding the edge and just holding on. It was surprising in a sense, but it was also reaffirming. I knew I could do it. Like so many other things, you have to envision it, you have to see it.
“I think about the life that I want in those moments where it’s tough, and that gives me so much energy. That gives me so much drive. I’m not going to defeat myself. I might not finish first, but I am going to give everything I have.”
The world cup performances have Terrell thinking even bigger. He now has his sights set on the road world championships, which will be held in Quebec in August.
“Getting a rainbow jersey would be fantastic,” said Terrell of the world champion’s colors. “That’s been one of my long-term goals. The course looks pretty suitable for me. I definitely think there’s a good chance.”
Terrell would also like to represent Team USA at upcoming Paralympic Games, but his aspirations don’t end there.
“I want to finish a world tour race,” he said. “I want to compete and finish a race. Part of the value I can add to (a professional cycling team) is providing representation for people with limb differences.
“I have great four-, five-, six-hour power. Now I want to race grand tour stages.”
Terrell also has a set of goals off the bike.
“Now one of my goals is to get dual citizenship in the (European Union),” Terrell said. “I want to eventually start a nonprofit focused around traumatic transitioning and adaptive rehabilitation.”
As much as the world cup medals mean to Terrell, he knows that life is about more than collecting hardware.
“It’s not the achievement. It’s the aim,” Terrell said. “When you don’t value the process, when you don’t value everything that got you there, it’s just going to be highs and lows. I just want to keep aiming up.
“I just want to encourage people to not put things past themselves, to take on more responsibility, to know that greatness is inside of everyone. I truly believe that. I just think it’s so important to lead a fulfilling life, and we do that through effort and vision.
“Define what you want out of this life, and then invest time in it. That takes a bit of trial and error.”