It was a Sunday, at noon in the Beirut by Bike enclosure. Bikes going past me. Men, women, children. Parents and kids, enjoying a January sunny day before heading for lunch. I wasn’t there to meet a cyclist, though. I was there to meet Ahmad.
Ahmad is a hand cyclist, and that is something very different: He is a marathon runner, or what people call ‘athletes with special needs’.
«You have to get on the bike.» he said. I was there to do photos of him for my new project, and I had two cameras on me. «my friend will hold your camera», he said when he saw my hesitation. I got on the bike. It was the basic trainer. We sat upright. He was on the pro trainer, a few inches from the ground. Ahmad seemed to be gliding on his. I followed his lead —after some tweaking of my regular bicycle reflexes— and we were off.
Ahmad was a firefighter. He had lost the use of his legs in the line of duty. On his hand cycle though, he was in a parallel universe where all that matters was how fast, and how long you could go with what you had. Nothing else mattered, not the job, not the fame, not the fortune. There was just the Will to never give up, and the road ahead; that road we all traveled, each at our own pace, each for a reason.
«This is great!» I shouted to him. He was in front. «We should definitely make more people pick up hand cycling!» I added.
«Such is my goal.» Ahmad answered back. «I want all people to try hand cycling. Hopefully we could launch a kind of biathlon for cycling and hand cycling.»
«That would be great!» I said. The idea was indeed great. I had never thought of it, but it suddenly made perfect sense. We did a few laps as a try-out. I told Ahmad that I wanted to try his pro trainer next time.
«It goes much faster, so you need to be on an open track, and not in this enclosure.» I looked at the Beirut waterfront strip. I could definitely see myself speeding down that road. At that moment I realized that getting to meet all these athletes and hearing their stories, but also training with them, was going to be my most exciting project.