A dedication to competition

More than 30,000 participants gathered in downtown Tampa last weekend for the 2016 Gasparilla Distance Classic. Leading the pack was Joey Gibbs, a young athlete who has overcome paralysis to keep racing.

Gibbs was one of four racers in the 15K wheelchair division. These athletes started the races just five minutes before the running participants.

“Oh, yeah, he’ll typically outrun everybody at an event like this,” said Matt Gibbs, Joey’s father, when asked about Gibbs’ exceptionally fast pace compared to the running participants.

This claim was proven when Gibbs crossed the finish line minutes before anyone else in the race with a time of 34:57.

Gibbs was paralyzed in a motocross accident when he was 11-years-old. After losing the use of his legs, he pursued racing in other ways like cart and RC-car racing.

“I always had that mentality, that drive or that determination and it just stuck with me,” said Gibbs.

Gibbs embraced wheelchair racing when he joined the track team during his sophomore year at Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida.

Since then, Gibbs has competed at an elite level all over the country; earning 48 medals over his career, including six state and seven national championship titles. Gibbs simply wouldn’t let his condition stop him.

His current goal is to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Japan.

From Bikes to Books

 

One clear evening last February, amid the crowd of screaming fans and the stench of race fuel permeating the stadium, Bodie Colangelo walked away from his professional motocross career to focus on a new dream.

Having been dropped from his sponsors earlier that year, Colangelo was considered a privateer racer. Privateers paid for the sport out of pocket. With endless medical bills and large sums of money contributing to his profession, the wrist injury he suffered at that Supercross Arena competition had been the last straw.

“I realized the risks outweighed the reward,” Colangelo said. “I was constantly getting hurt and the money just wasn’t there.”

His success throughout his career had left him unprepared of what steps to take if it had ended. Attending a university after graduation had not been a consideration. The goal had been to focus on riding but Colangelo was forced to reconsider school as option after his injury.

“I felt if I wasn’t going to race anymore that I would go to school and pursue a degree in business,” Colangelo said. “At that point I was just ready to take it easy.”

Colangelo enrolled at Hillsborough Community College in the spring and has been focusing on completing his degree. The slower paced lifestyle gave light on how years of riding have affected his health.

“I’ve broken so many bones they have my racing jersey hanging in USF’s Morsani Center,” Colangelo said. “When the weather changes my bones will ache and I have constant back pain.”

David Colangelo, who served as a father, coach, mechanic and trainer while his son was a racer had also benefited from the change of pace. There were no days off between working as a supervisor at a Water Treatment Plant and traveling for races.
“Every sacrifice I made was worth it to see his dream come true,” David Colangelo said. “The focus is to now see him through school.”

On nostalgic days, Colangelo will take his bike out for a spin. He isn’t a stranger to his old racing track where he spent much of his adolescent years. Unable to stay away from hobbies that bring him a thrill, he has since shown interest in muscle cars and racecars.

Brandi Colangelo, the racers mother, has a hard time seeing her son in any dangerous sport. Staying home with the youngest sibling while her husband and son were away at races gave her plenty of time to worry. Now that the racing days are behind them she now faces a new wave of fear with her son’s new obsession for muscle cars.

“The first thing he did after he stopped racing was buy muscle car,” Brandi Colangelo said. “I don’t know what’s worse, worrying about him on that bike or worrying about him in that car.”

With the continued support of his family, Colangelo is set to graduate in the spring of 2018. Unsure of where his life will go now that racing isn’t the dream he’s following, he was hopeful for a bright future.

“Things didn’t go as planned for me but I know that somehow I’ll end up back on that track,” Colangelo said.

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