July 9, 2020

Wheels of steel & a heart of gold


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ryan chalmers divingParalympic athlete, Ryan Chalmers starts Push Across America for specialised dive programme in the Cayman Islands.

Ryan Chalmers @VisitCaymanIslands recently sat down with a paralympic athlete Ryan Chalmers as he prepared for an unprecedented feat. On Saturday, April 6, Ryan kicked off his ‘Push Across America’ in Los Angeles. Raising awareness and funds for Stay-Focused, a non-profit organisation providing disabled teens and young adults with motivating scuba dive programmes in the Cayman Islands, Chalmers will push his racing chair the equivalent of two to three marathons per day to complete his 71- day journey from Los Angeles to New York City.

ryan chalmersVisitCaymanIslands: How did the Stay-Focused programme come to the Cayman Islands?

Ryan Chalmers: Roger Muller, the Founder of Stay-Focused, learned to dive in Grand Cayman in 1999. Roger then visited Cayman the following year with his brother, Bobby, a Vietnam Marine Corps combat veteran, who has a condition known as paraplegia and uses a wheelchair. Roger had registered the domain name, Stay-Focused, simply based on a desire to start a non-profit organisation, and liking the name, but not knowing exactly how to define its mission. It was the first time Roger and Bobby had dived together and when Roger observed how much Bobby enjoyed the freedom of being in the water and out of his chair, he decided to offer that same experience to teens with physical disabilities. ryan chalmers raceAnd what better place to do it than in the Cayman Islands, one of the most desirable diving destinations in the world?

VCI: How did you and your team come up with Push Across America and why?

RC: Roger and I first discussed Push Across America as an idea in 2009. I knew Roger had faced challenges in raising funds for Stay-Focused, particularly that year, and so when he asked me if I thought I could push my racing chair across America my first question to him was, “would it help you – meaning would it help Stay-Focused?” When he answered positively, I simply said, “I’m in,” and committed to doing it. Our goal is to encourage others to take on challenges and give back to individuals and organisations that have made a difference in their lives, much like Stay-Focused has made a difference in my life. I also want to build awareness for the potential of all persons with disabilities, disability sports, and the Paralympic movement. ryan chalmers scubaPush Across America will also raise funds for Stay-Focused, so the organisation can continue to offer the same incredible opportunity it provided me, to many more teens and young adults with disabilities.

VCI: How long do you expect the ride to take? Can you describe a typical day on the Push?

RC: The Push Across America team will leave Los Angeles on Saturday, April 6, and arrive in New York City 71 days later on June 15. While each day will be different, depending on the terrain and weather conditions, I’ll be averaging about 60 miles a day. Going up the mountains in Colorado; however, reaching an elevation of about 10,000 feet, there’s a day when I’ll only be able to push about 15 miles. The amount of time I spend each day in my racing chair will vary according to the demands of the day. I’ll take breaks as necessary and listen to my body.

VCI: You recently became a PADI Divemaster, what is your future with the sport and how do you see it growing?

RC: I was fortunate to be sponsored by Sunset House in the Cayman Islands for my PADI Divemaster certification, which I completed in October 2012. It was a fun experience and I’m happy that I have achieved a professional level of certification that will allow me to assist diving instructors in teaching skills to first-time divers in our Stay-Focused programmes. I intend to pursue my instructor certification, probably within the next couple of years, as I plan to be diving and instructing as a member of the Stay-Focused team for many years.

VCI: Having been to so many dive sites in Cayman, including completing the Ocean Frontiers Green Short Challenge in East End, what would you say is your favourite dive site in the Cayman Islands?

RC: Completing the Green Short Challenge with Roger in 2012 was an awesome experience. Fifty-five dives is a lot of diving and we had a great time. The team at Ocean Frontiers is topnotch and made each and every dive a fun experience. I must admit I enjoy diving on the East End but I am also fond of deep dives on the west side of the island. And, going north you’ll see things you don’t see in other locations. So, I guess I’d say, anywhere you dive in Cayman you’re going to have a great experience – that’s why we dive in Cayman!

VCI: How does one mentally and physically prepare for this cross-country journey?

RC: I’m very fortunate to have a great support team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where I train. My coach, Adam Bleakney, is the best, and my trainer, Karla Wessels, who will be joining us on the “Push”, will get me through it. I also train with a team of fellow Paralympians who motivate me to give it my best effort each and every time we practice. Mentally, I’m ready. I’ve been preparing for Push Across America for a long time and my commitment has never wavered. I’m doing it for the right reasons and I’m doing it at the right time in my life. I know during the 10 weeks I am pushing there will be difficult times but as long as I stay focused and keep my mind on my passion for the organisation and the reasons why I started the journey in the first place, I will achieve it.

VCI: During your Push, will you have the opportunity to take in some sites on the 3,500 mile ride? What stops are you looking forward to?

RC: I don’t really see this as a sight-seeing trip – I could be wrong but I expect to focus on the road ahead of me and staying alert. Each state I’m passing through will be different, so there will be plenty of new experiences and I trust I will take in some of the beauty each location offers.

VCI: What advice do you have for a young disabled person going through a difficult time?

RC: I’ve always been inclined to say, “never give up.” Like most people, I’ve faced difficult times in my life, so I know it can be hard to stay motivated – to stay disciplined. One of the lessons we articulate in our Stay-Focused programmes is, “no matter what challenges you face in life, ‘stay focused’ and you can over overcome them.” That will be one the mottos I will carry along with me throughout this 71-day journey.

VCI: Lastly, how much are you hoping to raise and how can people donate?

RC: We set a goal of $5 million by the end of 2013. That includes the “Push,” as well as post-Push fund-raising events, particularly in the fall.

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