Paralyzed hand-cyclist goes for 24-hour world record
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Attila Domos thinks he stands a good chance to set the official 24-hour hand-cycling world record this coming weekend.
After all, the 49-year-old Greenfield resident bettered the existing official record — 403.9 miles — last year by nearly four miles — 407.7 miles — when he rode 815 times in one day around the half-mile oval on the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park.
But Rick Boethling, director of the 24-hour race that begins Friday evening in Borrego Springs, Calif., says not so fast.
“He’s in for a rude awakening,” Mr. Boethling said by phone from Borrego Springs, the small desert town located about 80 miles northeast of San Diego. “Racing on a road is a hell of a lot harder than on a track. There are 200 other bikers. Wind. Heat during the day. It will be way harder for him.”
For Domos, Boethling’s warning is merely the kind of full-fiber doubt he has been consuming to fuel his determination since he was first paralyzed from the waist down in a falling accident 24 years ago.
“I believe I will break the record out there,” Domos said before going to Borrego Springs to prepare for the race. “I can’t believe I wouldn’t.
“I dealt with everything (in Pittsburgh last year) already when I broke it unofficially. It was awful. It started raining at 7 to 8 a.m., 19 hours in. At first it just drizzled and then it poured,” he said.
And while it may seem easier on a bike track, he said, Boethling “doesn’t know about (the Bud Harris track’s) 11 feet of elevation each lap and the swirling winds. It’s not a flat track,” he said.
And cyclists rode with Domos for much of his race last year.
“It gave me the ability to pick someone out in front of me and try to catch that person. That was helpful when you’re loopy and delirious” after riding for so long, he said.
On top of that, while it will be hot — as much as 100 degrees at mid-day in the Sonora Desert on Saturday — the race begins at 5 p.m. Friday there and finishes at 5 p.m. Saturday. Because of how much he uses he arms, Domos said, it is the heat that is an aid.
“I like the heat. It keeps me loose. I hate the cold. It makes my shoulders hurt,” he said.
If all that sounds so much like a man psyching himself up — or out — those who know Domos say it is truly who he is.
“Attila likes a challenge. That’s what makes his story so compelling,” said Bill Eritz, the Pittsburgh filmmaker who is part of the team that has been making a documentary about Domos for the past year and will be at the race to see if he sets the record.
Domos’ story and peppy personality has already attracted new fans in Borrego Springs.
“I’m really excited for him,” said Linda Haddock, executive director of the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce. “He just has all this energy and this big smile; you can see the I’m-not-quitting in him.”
She first read about Domos in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story earlier this year that noted he was coming to Borrego Springs to try to set the record. Struck by his story, she invited him to be in the Borrego Days Parade on Oct. 21 as an honored guest. Riding in a convertible, he was an instant hit with the 10,000-plus people who came from all over the region for the parade.
Domos said he has felt the support in the town of about 3,400 year-round — that swells to more than 10,000 during the winter months — since the day he arrived.
“Everywhere I go people are like, ‘Go get that record! We’re rooting for you!’ ” he said. “This is a really small town, so everyone gets to know you fast. And everyone is so nice. It’s like Pittsburgh on steroids.”
Still, he knows he faces challenges.
One day after he arrived, the winds were whipping in gusts upwards of 60 mph.
“I literally got blown over off a hill,” he said with a laugh. “If the wind is like that, I won’t break the record.”
Such high winds are rare, but not unheard of in the desert. One factor working in Domos’ favor is that the first 13 hours of the race are at night, when the winds are normally much calmer.
He has also found that the surface of the 18-mile road course that makes up the majority of the race — until racers start on a 4-mile course for the last two hours — is “much rougher than I thought.”
In his first two laps around the 18-mile course, he did each lap under an hour, which bodes well. He averaged just under 17 mph last year in riding 407.7 miles on the race track in Pittsburgh.
None of that has Domos anything but positive about his chances.
“I’m as ready as I can be,” he said.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com