Stroke survivor Billy Lister says he wouldn’t be on the road to Rio for the 2016 Paralympics if it wasn’t for the National Stroke Association.
“The National Stroke Association over the years has been a pivotal part of me moving forward and helping me to find my life and passion as a stroke survivor,” he said. “It put fuel on the fire and I would not be in the shoes I’m in if it hadn’t been for the support of the National Stroke Association.”
Lister will compete in four cycling events in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the Paralympics will be held Sept. 7 to 18.
“I set a lofty goal for myself—to win two of the four medals,” said Lister. “If you’re going to do it, you might as well aim as high as you can.”
It wasn’t always an easy road for the 34-year-old athlete who experienced a stroke at age 17 and 12 years later in 2011 got on a bike while attending a paratriathlon camp through the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
“I came late to the sports arena,” said Lister. “For the longest time I never even knew that sports for the physically disabled even existed.”
He said once a program director gave him that first push on a bike, he was hooked again on sports which he participated in while growing up on Long Island.
“I fell down 1,000 times but got back up 1,001 times,” said Lister.
Lister lives and trains at the U.S. Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, home to the U.S. Paralympics, a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee.
He rides his custom bike that allows him to use his right side to control the gears and both brakes 10 to 15 hours a week. The rest of the week he does strength and conditioning exercises with coaches and works with a sports medicine team.
“It was a long process to get to the mindset and the body that I have now,” said Lister. “But it’s been a fun ride.”
Lister’s stroke occurred after he had brain surgery to correct an arteriovenous malformation (AVM)—a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain—that was diagnosed when he was 15.
“My stroke was a very atypical event in that it was a slow and regressive process, not the sudden burst of light that changes your world in an instant,” said Lister. “I’d been an athlete my whole life, playing everything I could find time for. So when sports were slowly taken away from me, it was a tremendous burden.”
Lister floundered for several years until 2009 when he attended a summit for the non-profit No Barriers.
“This was my first introduction into the world of disabled and adaptive sports and was a revelation that I have adapted as a lifestyle and never looked back,” said Lister.
Lister says it’s “almost unfathomable” that he’s headed to the Paralympics.
“It means everything to me,” said Lister. “It’s an exponential accomplishment to wear the red, white and blue on my shoulders and represent the U.S. It’s going to be very emotional to put on that jersey and experience the absolute joy of accomplishment.”
Read Billy’s Blog during his competition in Rio.