A Conversation with World T.E.A.M. Sports Athlete Rory McCarthy

Holbrook, New York, October 17, 2016 – World T.E.A.M. Sports recently discussed with Maine adaptive Rory McCarthy his inspiring experiences with the national non-profit organization since 1995. Here is a transcript of that conversation.

World T.E.A.M. Sports: Can you please advise your background?

Rory McCarthy: I live near the town of Bath, Maine, called the “City of Ships”, the home of Bath Iron Works. I have a wife and together we have a 17 year old son, in his senior year in high school. For most of my life I have worked as an electrical designer/engineer and graphic designer. I am semi-retired.

Rory McCarthy on the Sea to Shining Sea Ride

Rory McCarthy rides during the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea. Photograph by Van Brinson.

I have experienced orthopedic and neuromuscular issues with my legs for most of my life, having had over two dozen surgeries while I was young. The surgeries were focused to help me be able to walk, though most of my life I used crutches and now a wheelchair for my personal mobility.

The sport I enjoy the most is cycling, and for me specifically hand cycling, pedaling with my arms. I also enjoy kayaking. As a family we enjoy soccer.

I have been hand cycling for over 35 years. It has provided me with a lot of joy, exercise, opportunity, confidence, and through adaptive sports organizations like World T.E.A.M. Sports many adventures in my life. My first hand cycle was designed and built by a friend with a small business, just after he completed his engineering program at MIT.

I also volunteer with an adaptive sports program here in Maine, Maine Adaptive Sports, encouraging individuals with disabilities to participate in outdoor sports and recreation activities.

WTS: How did you learn about World T.E.A.M. Sports?

RM: I first learned about World T.E.A.M. Sports in late spring, 1994. I had received in the mail an application and information sheet about a bike ride being organized by W.T.S. Amazed, I read the ride was to go completely around the world. Disabled and non-disabled cyclists were being asked to participate on one stage of this 14 stage cycling event. Each of the stages involved about 2 – 2 1/2 half weeks of cycling. The application requested one to select his or her top three stage preferences each about 900-1000 miles long. My first choice was cycling from Mongolia into China which necessitated crossing the Gobi Desert. Second and third involved crossing parts of Europe and Asia. I completed the application and sent it in to World T.E.A.M. Sports.

That September, World T.E.A.M. held a press conference in the Delegates dining room at the United Nations to officially announce the ride called AXA World Ride ‘95, which was to start on St. Patrick’s Day. I was asked along with a few of the other riders who had applied, to come down for the press conference and meet with ambassadors of a few of the countries the ride would cross. By this time, I knew I had gotten my first choice and was slated to cycle in Mongolian and China. I brought my hand cycle to the press conference which was to include Greg LeMond, three time winner of the Tour de France.

As I headed to New York for the press conference, I was very excited but had no idea what to expect. I will never forget the unexpected opportunity that presented itself in the Delegates dining room that day. A few minutes before the start of the event Jim Benson walked over to the table I was sitting at and introduced himself to me as the head of World T.E.A.M. Sports and he said “It’s good to meet you Rory. In a few minutes I will be making introductions and I would like to take you up on your offer and introduce you as a core rider!” I was a little puzzled and asked him what a ‘core rider’ was. He answered, “A rider who is going to cycle the whole way around the world.” He added, “You have a few minutes to think about it before the introductions.” I sat there for a moment, flushed according to those sitting around me!

Vietnam Challenge starting line

Riders at the start of the 1998 Vietnam Challenge in Hanoi. World T.E.A.M. Sports archive photograph.

When I had driven down from Maine that day, my plan was to ride just the one Stage, I had arranged for the necessary time off from the consulting engineering firm where I worked. At first, I was not sure what Jim meant when he said “Take you up on your offer.” Then I recalled I had impulsively written in my application. One question asked why I wanted to participate in the ride. I remember thinking about seeing parts of the world I would never likely see and the cultures and people I otherwise never experience. And above all I believe that people, who were considered “disabled” could do anything, that an able bodied athlete could do, just differently and with a TEAM. As I sat there with just a couple of minutes to decide whether or not to become a core rider, I remembered what I had written on my application at the very end of the paragraph, “P.S. – Part of me would love to do the whole thing!” I had written that not knowing that World T.E.A.M. Sports was even considering having a group of core riders cycle the whole 13,000 plus miles. I wrote that not knowing that World T.E.A.M. Sports would provide such a great opportunity and challenge to a group of core riders on AXA World Ride ’95. I told Jim before he began the press conference, I would be happy to be a core rider.

Needless to say, I was thrilled, excited, and also concerned about how to make it happen in my life, being a part of a TEAM that would attempt to cycle around the world. Many details to be worked out with the support of friends, family and coworkers over the next six months before the ride was to begin.

I am forever grateful to World T.E.A.M. Sports and Jim Benson for offering me that opportunity.

WTS: How has participation in our events affected your life?

RM: My life has been profoundly affected by all the World T.E.A.M. Sports events in which I have participated. I have met some incredible people and been a part of amazing events in which I have witnessed folks facing personal challenges from all over the globe. Each event has provided me the chance to be inspired by these individuals as well as the opportunity to see someone’s eyes light up when they see a hand cycle or an adaptive bike for the first time and realize their life doesn’t need to be defined by their disability. They can participate in all of life’s activities. And with developments in technology and cycle design, they can get exercise, participate with friends and family, exceed expectations of others, and look cool while doing it!

One event, the Vietnam Challenge, I was asked to be a hand cycle coach and support staff for World T.E.A.M. Sports for the Vietnamese cyclists, that were riding the newly donated hand cycles from World T.E.A.M. Sports.

Rory McCarthy and a mountain view.

Rory McCarthy takes in a mountain view during the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea. Photograph courtesy Rory McCarthy.

One evening, our group of participants which included American veterans, South Vietnamese Veterans, Australian veterans, along with North Vietnamese veterans, enemies during the war. Now they were cycling the length of Vietnam together. One amazing evening meal, sitting on my left was a man from Hanoi in the north of the country. He and his family lived in Hanoi in 1968 during the bombing of the city. At the same table on my right was an American veteran, a munitions officer on an aircraft carrier loading the bombs on the aircraft set to bomb Hanoi. The Vietnamese man lost eight members of his family from that bombing campaign. Now here we all were sitting together, sharing a meal, and talking about the experience of cycling together the length of Vietnam. Quite an experience for me to be a part.

The idea of participating in World T.E.A.M. Sports events has offered others the opportunity to realize they can exceed their own expectations. In the years following the World Ride, I did many talks and presentations about the ride, and about overcoming the barriers that can exist, for many of us, in our minds, about what we are capable of. I did scores of these presentations to various groups, including high schools, universities, non-profits, and sports programs.

During World Ride ’95, the local West Bath Elementary School, each morning, during regular school announcements, they would let the students know “Where in the world is Rory?” The students would learn where our World Ride T.E.A.M. was, the local community, the country, and some facts about the area and the people. Twenty plus years later I have students (now they are adults) who come up to me around town and talk about how they remember the daily announcements and what they learned and how impressed they were about the possibilities of what a TEAM can to, including breaking preconceived notions about people with disabilities.

WTS: What moments or experiences at our events do you remember?

RM: I have many moments and experiences that I remember. Many more than I could relate here.

Crossing the Gobi Desert in Mongolia and meeting the Mongolian people were some of the greatest moments. One of the more memorable experiences, while cycling around the world, occurred late one night, under the stars of the Gobi Desert sitting around a camp fire with Mongolian veterans from WW II. These veterans defended their country during WWII against the Japanese. Many of these veterans were trained and honored for defending their country as accomplished horseback riders. All these gentlemen were in their 80’s. They originally came out to meet us on our crossing of their country a few days earlier. This evening was our last in Mongolia before we crossed in China. It was amazing, under the stars, to be there sitting around a campfire with our tents nearby, a herd of horses moving freely nearby, drinking a clear liquor with our hosts, eating from a whole roasted goat on the campfire, toasting our new friendships, celebrating what we had accomplished crossing the Gobi desert.

Rory McCarthy at Face of America 2016

Rory McCarthy at the 2016 Face of America ride is joined by a young cheerleading squad. Photograph by Terry Rasmussen.

What I have found is that each new event that I participate in with World T.E.A.M. Sports provides new and memorable experiences. When I have the opportunity and honor to meet newly injured servicemen and women, and individuals with disabilities facing challenges which they have faced their whole lives, or the result of an accident or illness, I am amazed with their resolve and character which allows them to persevere in light of the so called “disability” or disabling condition. Their character while facing these challenges is inspiring for me, especially when I may feel down or challenged by my own life experiences.

WTS: What do you recommend for individuals with disabilities who are considering participating in sporting activities and events?

I enthusiastically recommend they participate in sports and recreational activities. Someone with a disability, whether from an injury or accident or something someone has lived with their whole life – these activities can improve your quality of life; can help with depression or sadness; and make you just feel generally better about life and about your own life experiences. These activities, with an organization like World T.E.A.M. Sports, can save your life and provide you a better outlook on life and your relationships with family and friends. In World T.E.A.M. Sports adventures you can make lifelong friendships.

WTS: Have you been able to use your experiences at sporting events to improve your life?

RM: Most days of my life include some form of exercise, whenever possible.

I believe in a philosophy of inclusion and opportunity in athletics for all individuals regardless of differences. I strongly recommend that people with a disability should get involved with adaptive sports through organizations which encourage and provide opportunities participating in sports activities.

Rory and Bruce McCarthy in 2010.

Rory McCarthy, left, and his brother Bruce McCarthy on day one of Sea to Shining Sea 2010. Photograph courtesy Rory McCarthy.

As I have shared, cycling has been such an important part of my life. Adventures allowing me to see many parts of the world while traveling through small towns, large cities, mountainous areas, as well as the deserts. The most important part I remember and enjoy is the amazing people I have met along the different journeys and the many lifelong friendships.

WTS: What is next for you in sporting activities?

RM: One of my favorite activities is helping others getting started in sports and recreational activities after an accident, injury, or for the first time after dealing with a lifelong condition. Here in Maine, I volunteer with Maine Adaptive Sports, helping folks try out adaptive cycling, during their weekly clinics along Back Bay in Portland in the summer months.

Rory McCarthy is one of World T.E.A.M. Sports’ most experienced athletes, having participated in many events from the organization since 1995. In addition to the 1995 AXA World Ride, McCarthy participated in the 1996 Paralympic Torch Relay from Washington D.C. to Atlanta; the 1997 All Sports Day in Charlotte, North Carolina; the 1998 Vietnam Challenge; All Sports Days in New York City and in Boston; Face of America from the cross-country 2000 inaugural ride, to the 2002 September 11 commemorative ride from the World Trade Center site in New York City to the Pentagon to Face of America Gettysburg rides from 2006 through 2011 and 2016; The February 2008 Kids Skating and Sled Hockey Clinic in Boston; and the inaugural Sea to Shining Sea 2010.

Sea to Shining Sea 2010

Rory McCarthy, right hand cycle, and other riders during a special ceremony during the 2010 Sea to Shining Sea. World T.E.A.M. Sports archive photograph.