Locals in London, Paralympic Games: Clark Rachfal, tandem cyclist

The stage in London now belongs to the 2012 Paralypmic Games. This week, WTOP's "Locals in London" series spotlights four local paralympians to watch.

Rob Woodfork, wtop.com

The stage in London now belongs to the 2012 Paralypmic Games. This week, WTOP’s “Locals in London” series spotlights four local paralympians to watch. Check out this map of the venues in London.

Clark Rachfal, tandem cyclist, Annapolis, Md.

WASHINGTON – Clark Rachfal was diagnosed with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, a rare disease, at the age of 4. It left him with degenerative eye sight. Rachfal has some peripheral vision, but has been rendered legally blind by the illness. With the aid of what is called his sighted pilot (or lead cyclist) Dave Swanson, the Towson graduate has been involved in competitive paracycling for 5 years.

Rachfal and Swanson just missed qualifying for the 2008 games, but this time around they come in with more winning experience. In each of the last 3 years, Rachfal and Swanson took gold in at least one race, including the Road National Championships in 2009 and 2010, and an American record in the Parapan American Games in 2011.

Rachfal says in his Team USA bio, “Every kid grows up watching and dreaming about representing their country and the Olympic Games … I chalked this up as a pipe dream as my vision deteriorated. With this competitive outlet and opportunities available through U.S. Paralympics, it is now possible for me to achieve that childhood dream and show others that no dream is out of reach.”

Rob Jones, rowing, Lovettsville, Va.

WASHINGTON – Rob Jones is a Marine who lost his legs in an improvised explosive device explosion two years ago. However, Jones hasn’t allowed his disability to stop him from enjoying biking, competing in triathlons and raquetball.

“I dabble in a lot of different stuff … I like a little bit over everything,” Jones says.

Lately, those activities have been put on hold so he can focus on rowing.

“I put so much stress on my body as is with the rowing, I want to make sure I recover from that. After the Paralympics, I’ll probably get back into that kind of stuff,” he says.

Jones rows with Oksana Masters, another bilateral above-the-knee amputee. The two have rowed together for years as “Team Bad Company.” Their disability is far from the only thing they have in common, though.

“We have a good rapport. We work well together on the water. Sometimes we disagree about strategy, but she’s always open to my ideas and I’m open to her ideas, and we usually get it figured out,” he says. “We’re a really good team.”

Jones hopes that’s confirmed with a trip to the medal stand.

“When we were in Serbia we rode a time that’s about on par with everyone else that’s going to go (to London), and we’ve trained even harder since we were in Serbia. So we have a really good shot at winning,” he says.

Learn more about Jones’ story here:


Kari Miller, sitting volleyball, Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON – Kari Miller, a native of Northwest D.C., is set to compete in the sport of sitting volleyball for the 2012 Paralympics. Even though it wasn’t her first choice.

Miller actually had her heart set on wheelchair basketball, but tried sitting volleyball.

However, she found she wasn’t accustomed to the speed of the game.

During an incident involving a ball coming straight at her so fast it had “fire shooting out the back of it,” she received a very valuable lesson. “The coach looked at me and said, ‘Kari, there’s no screaming in volleyball.'”

From then on, she was hooked.

“At any moment you could get hit in the face with the ball, or anything can happen. It’s just such a crazy sport. I loved it,” she says.

Miller was on the silver medal team in Beijing for the 2008 Games, and says she and her teammates love their chances at the gold medal this time around.

“It’s us and China as we see it right now. But if anyone else wants to step up, that’s fine because we train for everyone,” Miller says.

A military veteran who served tours in Bosnia and Korea, Miller lost her legs in a collision with a drunk driver 13 years ago. After the London Games, Miller plans to go back to school for a Ph.D. in physical therapy to help others in a similar situation.

“I got my degree in biology but I would like to move forward to further help newly injured individuals like myself,” she says.

To support Kari in her bid for gold, go to Every Step.

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