November 2, 2011
By Jordan Schatz
TANEYTOWN, MD — The motto that drives Special Olympics gold medalist Syd Lea, the 26-year-old cycling star from Taneytown, Maryland is “Don’t look back; leave it on the track”. The motto is taken from the film “Racing Stripes”.
Syd has seven gold medals from four trips to the Olympic Games. He took home three at the Special Olympics in Greece this past July, and in August, he became the first person in Team USA history to win gold at the world championships in Italy.
Syd has a champion’s heart. “I like to win,” he said, when referencing his medals.
On October 22, 2011, Syd will take his talents to Washington D.C. and take part in the Best Buddies Challenge for the fourth straight year. He will participate in the 100K bike ride and pair off with a person without disabilities.
Best Buddies was formed in 1989 at Georgetown University by Anthony Kennedy Shriver, the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy, the founder of the Special Olympics. The program was created around high schools and colleges with the focus on people with disabilities teaming up with students that don’t have disabilities. The goal is to create social opportunities and form friendships.
“It’s really a program to raise the level of awareness and provide more opportunities for social interaction and partnership with people without disabilities,” said Tracy, Syd’s mother.
The Best Buddies Challenge takes that idea and combines it with competitive athletics, creating a spirited and interactive environment for all participants.
“Bike riding and having these challenges and having our athletes compete and ride side-by-side with people without disabilities is a great equalizer,” said his mother. “We started doing the Best Buddies ride about four years ago. Syd ended up winning it in Boston. That was the surprise of Mr. [Anthony] Shriver. He never had a buddy that won the whole thing.”
Syd represents a new wave of people with an intellectual disability using athletics as a way to increase their independence. He’s been able to get his driver’s license, an opportunity that he attributes to his knowledge of the road from bike riding.
He trains five times a week rain or shine. He works out in the family gym and holds a job on the grounds crew at Mount St. Mary’s University. On weekends, he competes in races, often against military cadets. For Syd, the completion is enjoyable. Of course, whether or not they can beat him is a different story.
“In their dreams,” he jokes, indicating that he takes the competition very seriously.
Syd has cycled in 17 different countries and spent a month in Siberia for training. He’s an accomplished equestrian, winning the prestigious Sugar Plum Trophy three times since 2004.
For Best Buddies, Syd is an inspiration. According to his mother, he isn’t viewed as a buddy or someone that needs to be taken care of. Rather, he’s viewed as a competitor, a companion and a champion.
He began competitive cycling as a small child, using a bike with training wheels, and hasn’t looked back since, embracing the motto from “Racing Stripes.”
“He motivates himself because he really wants to win,” his mother said.
To support or participate in the Audi Best Buddies Challenge, visit http://www.bestbuddieschallenge.org.