Cyclist targets Paralympics after losing vision

NAHBS founder donates custom tandem racing machine

Greg Impellizzeri, an avid amateur cyclist, lost his vision due to complications during a standard medical procedure last February. His life immediately changed, but he knew above all things that he could never stop cycling.

When North American Handmade Bicycle Show founder Don Walker, of Don Walker Cycles, heard the story, he built and donated a high-performance tandem for Impellizzeri, who hopes to compete at the Paralympics Games.

Walker built the frame in a span of 10 days.

“I picked up the bike this weekend and I rode it for about two hours yesterday afternoon,” Impellizzeri told BikeRadar. “It is amazing. It rides like a dream. It handles like a single, at speeds and in the corners. There are no words to express how thankful I am to Don Walker. I can't wait to race this bike and get on the podium.”

Tragic complications

Impellizzeri, 33, underwent multiple surgeries last year to correct a problematic shunt that was placed his head at birth to regulate an abnormal drainage of spinal fluid. Despite his doctors’ best efforts, a complication during the procedure increased pressure on the optic nerve caused permanent vision loss in both eyes.

“I lost my vision due to a medical mishap, a mistake,” Impellizzeri said. “There were six surgeries that I had to try to fix a fairly common problem. It was nothing exotic that happened, but for whatever reason the vision loss was not taken seriously.”

A life-long cyclist

Cycling played a large role in Impellizzeri’s life growing up in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s been racing bikes since he was 14. He met long-time friend turned tandem pilot, John Carlton “JC” Breslin on the racecourse early on. Although Impellizzeri didn’t race in college, it’s where he began bicycle commuting.

Impellizzeri and carlton getting ready for their first ride: impellizzeri and carlton getting ready for their first ride

Impellizzeri and John Carlton ready for their first ride as a new team

“I was always on a mountain bike, on the road, track and I commuted all through college,” Impellizzeri said. “When I entered the work force, I was fortunate enough to be able to live close enough to work to commute back and forth every day. Cycling has always been a big part of my life.”

“The first two things that crossed my mind when I lost my vision was the thought of not being able to ride a bike and not being able to drive a car,” he said. “Driving a car is still out, obviously, but Don Walker’s tandem has allowed me to ride and start racing again.”

The custom bike

When Walker heard about Impellizzeri’s circumstance he decided to build him a racing tandem, which the builder is known for, free of charge. Walker also reached out to the cycling industry on Impellizzeri’s behalf, for bike parts in order to offer the racer a complete tandem.

Walker received tubing, a fork and small parts from Co-Motion, tandem cranks from Full Speed Ahead, tires and tubes from Continental and saddles from Fi’zi:k, Ritchey Logic provided the handle bars, stems and posts, SRAM donated the drive train components and brakes and he received a discount on wheels from Rolf Prima.

 “I felt that it was more important for Greg to get back on the road for his mental well being than to worry about being paid,” Walker said. “If and when he ever settles his lawsuit, I'm sure he will remember me and take us out for dinner or something. I just feel good knowing it’s improving his life.”

Walker is known for his racing tandems; impellizzeri's weighs just 24lbs: walker is known for his racing tandems; impellizzeri's weighs just 24lbs

Walker's frame features just a clear coat so that its craftsmanship is the highlight

“The tandem itself is very cool appearing with its raw look and finish to it,” the builder said of his creation, which features a simple clear coat over the raw metal. “It ended up weighing 24lbs total, minus pedals. I expect that when the tandem gets a few scratches that we will have to have it repainted, when rust starts spreading under clear, it’s very obvious.”

A long road back

Impellizzeri is currently training five hours a day. He combines spin classes, trainer workouts and tandem riding and intends to compete in two tandem races this summer with Breslin serving as his pilot. His long-term goal is to compete in the Paralympic Games.

“I want to see how far I can take this tandem racing,” Impellizzeri said. “The Paralympics is all new to me because when you don’t have a disability you don’t really think about those things. There is a whole network out there of cyclists and other sports.”

When asked how he was coping with vision loss on a day-to-day basis, Impellizzeri replied, “My life has changed so much… you have to take the attitude like it’s a new adventure. You are never going to be able to do things the same way but you have to figure out a way to do them differently. The driving thing is still out, but I will conquer cycling and do it a different way. I’m excited.”

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