A disabled athlete who made history by pushing 3,300 miles across America in a wheelchair, got a hero’s reception on a tour of Cayman’s schools this week.
Ryan Chalmers wowed youngsters with tales of his epic trip in a series of inspirational talks.
Greeted by more than 200 enthusiastic children at Red Bay Primary School on Thursday, the 24-year-old New Yorker asked them to guess the length of his journey.
Predictions ranged from 30 meters to 100 miles. The youngsters gasped in awe when he told them the real length of the trip – 3,320 miles over 71 days
Mr. Chalmers is back in Grand Cayman where he first conceived the idea for his journey, to deliver an inspirational message to young people: “If you believe in yourself and work hard, you can do anything.”
He visited nine schools or associations in a whirlwind week of lectures, including details and video footage of his record-breaking trip across America.
His visit concludes Sunday with a somewhat shorter journey – the 55-mile Push Across Cayman.
The athlete will be joined by fellow paralympians Brian Siemann and Aaron Pike for a circuit of Grand Cayman. The race starts at 7 a.m and ends at Camana Bay around midday with youngsters on bicycles invited to join the trio for a victory lap.
Mr. Chalmers also participated in the 2012 London Paralympics Games and finished 19th in the push rim wheelchair division in the Boston Marathon.
He was born with spina bifida, leaving him without complete use of his legs. Nevertheless, he played sports, eventually focusing on basketball and track. These days he is an ambassador for the charity Stay Focused, which brings young people with disabilities to the Cayman Islands to learn to scuba dive.
The money he raises goes toward giving others the same opportunity he got when he first visited Cayman with Stay-Focused in 2005.
He said the original idea of Push Across Cayman, which he completed for the first time in 2012, was as a warm-up for his American trip.
Now Mr. Chalmers, who is also a certified divemaster and a regular competitor in the Cayman half-marathon, hopes the exhibition race will become a fixture on the local sports calendar.
Through his exploits and his motivational talks he hopes to demonstrate to young people that anything is possible. “It is really just about finding your passion and really going out there and accomplishing it.
“Hopefully, I can show people that, disabled or not, we can accomplish anything just like anyone else can.”
He also wants to raise the profile of wheelchair sports.
“None of the kids had seen a racing chair before I came in and showed it to them,” he added.
Roger Muller, the man behind Stay Focused, joined Chalmers during his whirlwind lecture tour. Mr. Muller said he had the idea for the charity after diving in Grand Cayman with his brother Bobby, who is a paraplegic as a result of injuries from his service during the Vietnam War.
“When I saw how much he enjoyed being out of his wheelchair and in the water, I said this would be great for kids with disabilities,” said Mr. Muller.