July 12, 2002
Physically challenged athlete represents Mississippi in Alaska's ultra challenge
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—For eight years, Josh Sharpe has been proving people wrong about athletes and disabilities.
The 27 year-old Jackson resident hasn’t slowed down since becoming paralyzed from the waist down in a 1994 car accident. If anything, he’s picked up the pace.
After his accident, Sharpe decided he wanted to encourage other people with disabilities, but he also wanted to get out and enjoy the rest of the life that he nearly lost. While undergoing therapy at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, he met Ginny Boydston, the director of therapeutic recreation.
“Ginny has been great to me ever since,” said Sharpe who has since become a well rounded athlete participating in rock climbing, tennis and scuba diving. But he’s also found a sport to call his own—handcycling.
Inspired by the pages of a magazine for physically challenged athletes, Sharpe ordered his first handcycle two years ago and has fallen in love with the machine that acts as a bicycle for the disabled. Sharpe sits in it and uses his hands to push the pedals.
Last year, Sharpe completed his first solo triathlon swimming, handcycling and pushing a racing wheelchair at the Dragonfly triathlon in Sardis. But now, he says he’s ready for a more intimidating challenge.
On July 17, Sharpe boards a flight bound for Alaska and probably his greatest challenge yet—Sadler’s Midnight Sun Ultra Challenge.
For once, he won’t be competing alongside able-bodies cyclist, but instead will be face-to-face with a field of more than 20 other disabled athletes from around the world each with their own stories of overcoming deadly odds. The Midnight Sun is affectionately called the Holy Grail of handcycling and wheelchair racing.
Competitors will push either a handcycle or wheelchair 267 miles over six days covering the distance from Fairbanks to Anchorage. It’s the longest handcycle and wheelchair race in the world.
“It’s an incredible honor for me to be competing against these other physically challenged athletes from all over the world,” said Sharpe who squeezes 60-mile training rides around his full time job at the Social Security Administration. “I’ve put a lot of training in for this and I’m excited about the competition and the chance to see and experience Alaska. This is a great opportunity for me.” Methodist Rehab is sponsoring Sharpe’s participation in the competition.
Sharpe said he also hopes that by competing in this race, he can encourage and motivate others who may have sustained disabling injuries.
“We’re all very proud of Josh,” said Boydston. “He’s one of the hardest working athletes you’ll ever find. He’s dedicated and determined to get the most out of his life and he’s an inspiration for other people with disabilities who don’t know that they’re capable of doing so many activities.”
Physically challenged athlete Josh Sharpe, 27, used a handcycle to compete in this year's Dragonfly Triathlon in Sardis.
A three-story rock wall doesn't intimidate 27 year-old Josh Sharpe of Jackson. The physically-challenged athlete is reaching new heights in Methodist Rehab's therapeutic recreation program.