University coach Bleakney headed to Paralympics

By Daniel Johnson

Of the 22 paralympians from the University going to Beijing in August, Adam Bleakney may be one of the most well-rounded.

In addition to competing in the 400 meter, 800 meter, 5,000 meter and marathon events in Beijing, Bleakney was awarded the 2007 Paralympic Coach of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Committee and he also serves as the University’s disabled track coach.

“Any coach would say it, but the thing that I love about coaching is seeing my athletes reach their goals, there’s nothing better than that,” Bleakney, a 2000 graduate, said. “As far as my personal performances, it’s been something new to me, I just started racing in 1996. I went to Sydney (for the 2000 Games) and from around then on, I’ve been doing well.”

After a mountain biking accident in 1995, Bleakney became paralyzed from the waist down. His friend introduced him to wheelchair racing, which was an instant cure for his competitive desires. After spending years as a wrestler, Bleakney had to adapt to a new kind of sport, one that was “distinctly different” from what he was used to.

“If I would have been a cyclist, there would have been some crossover, but the physiology of a wrestler is so much different from a wheelchair racer,” he said. “Based on the demands of the sports, in wrestling, the duration of a match when I was in college was only about seven minutes, versus the 800 meter, which is about 90 seconds.

“There isn’t an opponent, directly, there is far less multi-directional movement, and your arms’ action is synchronous, as opposed to wrestling. I’ve been finding that out since I’ve been racing, especially at the Games in Sydney.”

Because of the differentiation of physical parts used, Bleakney will be competing and coaching in a wide variety of events at this year’s Games, something that he said able-bodied track athletes likely wouldn’t be able to do.

“I’ve talked about it with physiologists and kinesiology people on campus, but the broad events that we compete in can be done because of the differences between the limbs,” Bleakney said. “When you’re training for the 400 meter in chairs, it’s the same kind of speed and endurance you need for a 200, a 800 and a marathon. You can do pretty much all of the events except sprints in one year if you have the strength.”

The marathon event is where Bleakney has arguably had his most success. He won the Chicago Marathon’s wheelchair division in 2002 with a time of 1 hour, 40 minutes, 40 seconds, although Bleakney admits he has a sketchy of memory of the event.

“That’s the one I won, I think,” he said.

Bleakney laughs and it’s not clear if he’s joking or not until he continues.

“To be honest, the only thing that I really remember is that it was really cold,” he said, as more laughter accompanies the honest recollection of the race.

But what about this year? What if Bleakney were to win one or more of his events in Beijing, would that run together with the rest of the races?

“When you’re in the sport as long as I have, going on 12 years now, things can kind of be the same in your mind,” Bleakney said. “But I think that this being likely my last Games, it would probably be much more special to me.”