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Bascio makes career out of skiing, handcycling in spite of paralyzing injury

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By Michael Hicks

 

If it really was her last hurrah, then Monica Bascio can go out with her head held high. Why not. By a lot of people’s accounts they’re surprised that she was even competing in the first place.

But Bascio, the 40-year-old two-sport standout, never doubted herself even in the face of adversity. The Evergreen resident was paralyzed from the waist down in a skiing accident in 1992 that shattered the T12 vertebrae. While those close to her cried for her misfortune, Bascio moved on with her life as any able-body person would‘ve. The only difference being that she rides around in a wheelchair.

“Oddly enough I was like OK, let’s get on with it,” Bascio said about the accident. “I’ll do things differently just teach me how to do it. That was my motto.

“It’s just what I do,” Bascio added.

Is it an inconvenience to be disabled? Maybe. And while her wheelchair is more visible her daily routine is no different than anybody else’s. She just, as Bascio says, does things differently. In the 18 years since her accident, she’s grown used to being in a chair. In a lot of ways, she has embraced it, especially when it comes to athletics. 

She was an optimistic person before the injury and she remained that way afterwards. Thus her life has included earning a degree in occupational therapy from San Jose State University in 1998, getting married 10 years ago to Ian Lawless and having a son, soon-to-be 3-year-old Henry. She still goes grocery shopping and drives her own vehicle.

And, oh yeah, she’s been a top Nordic skier, the top-ranked female handcyclist in the world and a two-time Paralympian.

Not too shabby.

But the most recent Paralympic Games, held this past March in Vancouver, British Columbia, was her last foray into competitive cross country skiing. She is hanging up her skis, at least competitively, after an eighth-place finish in the 1 kilometer sprint sitting cross country event, ninth in the 10 km and 10th in the 5km.

It wasn’t the highlight that her fifth place in the 10 km at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, was, but it will do. In her mind, maybe it has to. She is trying to raise Henry, as it is, while continuing her work as an occupational therapist. That’s a full plate as it is without having to train for an international event such as the Paralympics.

“It was a lot more challenging to prepare because I had Henry. The dedication to training was a priority,” said the New Jersey native and former California resident, who moved to Evergreen in 2002 along with her husband, Ian Lawless, after he accepted a job with Adaptive Adventures. “Finding the time to train was definitely more stressful than the prep for Italy.”

But, for now, it’s over. Besides the current break has been a refreshing one.

“There are no trips to plan. I don’t have to wake up and figure out how I’m going to get to the gym and when,” said the former silver medalist at the world championships in 2003 and first-place finisher at this year’s U.S. Cross Country Championships in the 5k.

It also means she can devote more time, when she’s ready to, to handcycling. She’s only a former world champion (2002) and a five-time winner of Sadler’s Ultra Challenge, a grueling 267-mile event throughout Alaska.

She’s always been a cycling enthusiast. The sport provided an opportunity for an outdoor activity alongside her husband, who is the executive director for U.S. Handcycling based in Evergreen.

“We originally got into it together to find a way to exercise outdoors together,” Lawless said. “I’ve been cycling since I was 15 years old. My background in racing also helped her sort of develop a taste for racing in additional to the skills, training and the ability to develop a training plan. We ride a lot. It set her up to be a good competitor. We ride because that’s what we like to do. It keeps us healthy and fit.”

She hasn’t competed internationally since 2006 because of a myriad of things -- her cross-country skiing schedule, the birth of a child in 2007 and an accident in 2008 that left her with a broken leg. Not to mention she was giving her undivided athletic focus to skiing. But with the Summer Games two years away in London and her quite possibly being the best bet to medal for the U.S. women’s team, at least according to Lawless, Bascio just may have to consider one more serious Paralympic run.

But if she does it won’t be a half-hearted effort. She’ll go full-bore with it. And it wouldn’t be just for the trip. She’d be going to make her presence felt, no bones about it.

“I’ll have to look at it. It definitely would be a dream unfilled for cycling because it was my first sport,” said Bascio, who missed out on the 2008 Games — the first year handcycling was competed at the event — due to her skiing accident.

“I haven’t made that decision. I’d like to, but it’s one race at a time, one season at a time,” Bascio said. “There’s a lot of training. It takes a lot of support from your family. It’s not an easy decision to make. I’m still toying with the idea.” 

If she does go there’s no question that she’ll give it her all. If she doesn’t, she’ll still ride her bike recreationally and there won’t be any regrets. Besides look at her accomplishments thus far. There’s no reason for them when you’ve been as successful as she has been — disabled or not.