When people thank Jeremy Goetzinger for his service, he smiles and corrects them. It’s a peculiarity of being a person who is missing limbs during war time. He’s had plenty of time to get with it, though and is more likely to feel embarrassed for the over-enthusiastic well wisher than anything else. Being positive is practically a survival technique for Jeremy. It got him through the disease that took both his legs, onto a wheelchair basketball team that took the national title, through several marathons and, if he has his way, to the 2020 paralympics in Tokyo and beyond.
The Waldorf, Md. native was working as an electrician in Las Vegas when he was diagnosed with buerger’s disease, a rare condition affecting the blood vessels in the legs. When he understood how his life would have to change, Jeremy decided to change it even more radically and threw himself into hand-cycling. Training in the desert gave him a particular advantage, so when he was asked to join a local wheelchair basketball team, he was happy to add that sport to his resume.
He was a natural and, since he had the stamina that comes with being a long distance cycler in the desert, he was able to help lead his team to victory in the 2011 wold championships. He met and married, Katie coincidentally a Waldorf and last year they relocated back to Maryland, Ocean Pines specifically, to raise their daughter Paisley closer to home. Katie is a program manager for the Ocean Pines recreation department. Between the two of them, they’ve cultivated an active lifestyle.
Biking for a higher reason
Biking for pleasure was fun, but eventually started to prove a little unsatisfying for Jeremy. His competitive spirit wasn’t satisfied with just getting exercise, he wanted to do something more. Then he wanted to do more than that. He decided to start competing in marathons.
While bicycle races tend to be exclusionary, marathons are adaptive athlete-friendly. They tend to give the handcyclists an earlier start time but hold the races concomitantly. Every major marathon, including Boston, N.Y. and Los Angeles has an official hand cycle component that is proportionally difficult to enter as the traditional race. Handcycyclists have to qualify at certain times and in smaller races before they can move up the competitive food chain.
Since there was no wheelchair basketball program in Worcester County, Jeremy threw himself into handcycling nearly full time. He downloaded the training program the US Paralympic team uses and started plugging through that. He began qualifying for larger and larger races and this year announced he wanted to complete 50 marathons by the time he was 50, hoping to do five per year.
He is on track to make it but he needs a little help, which is why he started two different GoFundMe initiatives, one to help support him on the road, covering travel and entrance fees and another toward the purchase of a world class bike.
“There’s a saying among cyclists,” he said. “‘Speed costs money.'”
Training for and qualifying in marathons is only the first step. The second step is to earn a spot on the Team USA Paralympic squad bound for Tokyo in 2020. The elite athletes who represent the US often are partially community funded (more than 300 Paralympians have GoFundMe pages for Rio). Communities, when you think about it, sponsor athletes from the time they’re in little league. As the sports require more commitment of time and resources, though, the field gets a little smaller.
Step one, then, is to train at elite levels. Step two is to compete for his country. Step three? Develop a culture of adaptive sports in Worcester County that might just help the next adaptive athlete rise through the ranks.
Earning the service “Thanks”
That Jeremy didn’t lose his legs in war isn’t much of a sticking point for him. Competing with both service members and non-service members creates a different bond among adaptive athletes. In fact, when they heard about his fundraising attempt, many of his colleagues who did lose limbs as soldiers tease him about having gone about it in the wrong way. But in a world where there are plenty of guys who have access to some material support, cultural support is lacking. Jeremy sees it as his duty to help change that.
In the coming years he and Katie, who already is a recreation department program supervisor, hope to build a community of adaptive athletes. There’s no reason to not have athletic programs in the region featuring adaptive athletes, Jeremy reasons. The pair want to develop competitive programs for adaptive athletes as one prong of their mission, but also create an exercise culture among people who are disabled and maybe have given up on sports.
“When you cross that finish line you forget all the things you can’t do,” Jeremy said.
Every time he does, the thinks of another thing he can do, then it becomes something he ought to do.