PARK CITY, Utah — Steven Wilke spent most of his life hiding his disability. He was born with Poland syndrome, a birth defect that causes underdeveloped chest muscles, also affecting his back, shoulder, arm, and hand on the left side of his body. Through the years, Wilke didn’t want his disability to define him— until he did. Today, he is a National Cycling Champion, winning the US Paracycling National Championship in 2021.
When Wilke was in college, he discovered not only a fondness for biking but also his elevated abilities for the sport, which evolved into trickery like riding up and down stairs and jumping off things. Wilke and his friends combined their funds and purchased a video camera to document their stunts.
“I had to figure out a way to be able to control my bike before I only had one brake I could use,” Wilke said. “I adapted my bike and was able to put both brakes on one side and use both at the same time.”
For the past five years, Wilke has been volunteering at the National Ability Center in Park City, an event that has forever changed his perspective on living with a disability. His initial intention was to help others work through their limitations and find a way to engage in various sports. The narrative flipped and caused Wilke to accept his own disability.
“I got so much more out of it than the few hours a week I was putting in,” he said. “I could never repay them or thank them enough for what that experience has done for me. Once I got around people that were enjoying life with disabilities, it changed my acceptance of my own. I can hide mine pretty well, so I came out with the news on Facebook. At that point, I thought about doing paracycling and racing.”
Wilke was a mountain biker, so to be able to participate in racing, he had to switch to road biking. He purchased a road bike and began training. In 2021 he started racing and has done very well. One of the first races to offer a para category was the Midweek MTB Series, where Wilke and others with disabilities were able to race alongside ‘regular’ bodied riders. There is currently no mountain bike category, which he hopes to change.
Today, Wilke’s main goal is to go to the Paralympics and to bring awareness to those with disabilities.
“If you do have a disability and have been hiding it like I had, become part of a group, like the National Ability Center,” Wilke said. “Seeing and learning from others who have a disability, seeing it as more of a normal thing and knowing you can do anything with it. It is important to change your thought process, and learning how to deal with it so you don’t have to live with the anxiety of trying to hide it.”
If you are interested in assisting with getting a paracycling category in any of the cycling races, reach out to Steven on Instagram @stevenridesbikes.