MOUNT MAGAZINE, PARIS
 

Jason Macom’s Olympic journey began when he was just five years old. We all remember our first, pivotal moments of freedom, and for Macom there was none so significant as riding a bike for the first time. “I remember riding to the store to buy a Tootsie pop so I could find the wrapper with the Indian shooting a star,” Macom recounts, “It was that first taste of freedom, that feeling that I could go anywhere under my own power.” A tattoo now bears the same image as a permanent reminder of that independence—and Macom is still chasing stars.

Macom’s story of becoming a Paralympic hopeful has been told, but it’s what he’s chosen to do with his circumstances that has allowed him to break away from the peloton of other adaptive athletes. Instead of only considering his own cycling needs, he wants to help others in need of adaptive technology: “I want everyone who wants to ride a bike to have that opportunity without the struggles I’ve gone through.” Macom remembers laying on the side of the road many times, “…waiting for my wife to pick me up, my prosthetic in pieces because my experiment failed,” and he wants to use his experiences to ease the way for others.

Macom is something of a mad scientist when it comes to cycling; working with his prosthetist, he designed and fabricated a prototype cycling prosthetic. He is obsessed with getting better and becoming more competitive; as a result, he is constantly researching the science of cycling, analyzing the geometry and ergonomics that allow his body to become more connected with the bike. “I enjoy the process of discovery in the machine shop figuring it all out. I know it can be better,” Macom says. 

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It’s the velodrome, however, that’s his true laboratory. A velodrome is an arena designed for track cycling featuring two straightaways linked with steep turns banked at 45 degrees. “When you’re going 30-plus miles per hour, you and the bike are parallel to the in-field floor. On certain wooden tracks, it feels and sounds exactly like a wooden rollercoaster. It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time,” he explains. And that feeling—pushing the limits of his bike and his body—is what keeps him coming back for more. “It’s what I imagine flying would feel like,” he adds simply.

While Macom has no problem sharing his knowledge and the solutions to some of para-cycling’s inherent challenges, it’s not an altogether altruistic endeavor. “I want to be on the podium. I want to see my flag raised and hear our anthem played,” Macom says. Make no mistake, Macom is unapologetically competitive. His brutal training schedule is proof that he will stop at nothing to make his dream a reality. He begins his week on the Arkansas River trail with a warmup on his road bike. He then switches to his track bike and practices specific skills, like standing starts and techniques to gain higher output in the aero position. In the gym, he works just as hard. Every Tuesday night, following a two-and-a-half-hour morning session of lunges, leg presses, dead lifts and squats, he begins an interval session he describes as “the worst thing ever.” For twenty minutes, he pushes himself at maximum effort for thirty seconds, followed by a two-minute spin down, and then repeats the sequence four times. “It’s gasping and screaming and at the end I just lay in a puddle on the floor trying to regain any mental faculties I have left.” 

There’s an added complexity, however, to training as an adaptive athlete. Macom says, “Most athletes set their routine, do it and go home, but there’s always some unexpected challenge or mechanical change that needs to be made. It’s frustrating.” It’s during those arduous moments when he turns to the supportive community he’s surrounded himself with, primarily his wife, to reinforce to him that he has the tools and the know-how to find solutions. Macom says of his ever-encouraging wife, “You have no idea what I’ve put her through over the years. She’s absolutely incredible.”

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Training isn’t the only hurdle to overcome on the road to Tokyo in 2020. There are several competitions along the way, and to make the team, he’ll need to do well in all of them. In October, he will compete in the Master’s World Championships, not just against other para-cyclists, but traditional cyclists as well. A race designed to test not only his stamina, but the strategies associated with track cycling. “Watching your opponent and knowing when to push is just as important as your overall time,” he explains.  In December, he will travel to Colorado Springs for the Para-cycling National Championships, followed by the Team USA selection event in Los Angles which will secure him a spot for the World Championships in March. Afterward, it’s a continuous series of World Cups determining how many riders the team will carry into the Olympics. This presents its own set of challenges; Team USA isn’t funding him for all the qualifying races required to make the team, and there is the ever-present issue of finding the time to travel and compete. 

Enter the cycling community. Macom was recently contacted by the owner of The Meteor Bicycle Cafe in Little Rock. Believing in his goals, he offered him a position that allows Macom the flexibility in his schedule to remain competitive. Macom’s newly-found day job provides him access to the resources required as he works toward his goal of inspiring people to experience the joys of cycling. He says, “Whether it’s a casual rider looking for their first bike or someone wanting to get faster, I get to help them. The discounts don’t hurt either.” Macom also began a GoFundMe campaign to help offset some of the costs associated with his journey and will soon have a locally designed t-shirt available for purchase in bike shops around the state.

As often is the case, life imitates art. It’s no surprise then, that one of Macom’s favorite movies is A Knight’s Tale. He sees parallels between himself and the main character, saying, “I come from a humble little town in Oklahoma and somehow I’ve figured out how to follow my passion and race bicycles for Team USA almost full time. I never want someone to say, ‘I just can’t do it.’ If you believe enough, you can do anything. You can change your stars.”

To support Jason’s Tokyo challenge go to: gofundme.com/jason-macom-project-tokyo.