Andre Kajlich's weekends begin at 2:59 a.m., when his first alarm goes off.
Kajlich only has a few minutes for another alarm next to his Espresso machine signaling he needs to be up and out the door to train for a 3,000 mile race across America.
Kajlich is the first solo hand cyclist to qualify for the Race Across America (RAAM). Starting June 13, he will have 12 days to cycle from California to Maryland.
“Nobody knows if it can be done. I’ll be on that starting line with no clue if I’ll finish,” Kajlich said.
However, he hopes to be one of the finishers and is training 500 miles each weekend to prepare.
The 37-year-old is a double amputee, having lost both of his legs after an accident in Prague in December 2003. He was on his way home after a night out when he was hit by a subway train.
“So the entire train went over me, except the last car. There are pictures of them splitting it off and hauling my lifeless body out,” Kajlich said, explaining he woke up from a coma three weeks later with no memory of what happened.
“However it came about, whether I fell asleep waiting for the train or just sort of stumbled off. There was an investigation, because there were personal effects scattered around the video didn’t record. But whatever happened, I was just lucky to have survived,” Kajlich said.
Doctors did not think he would be able to sit again, much less walk or ride a bike. However, 10 months after the accident Kajlich turned the corner mentally.
“The real turning point for me was returning to this point of despair and wallowing and the pity, wishing things could be different. I just decided right then that this was the last time I was going to cry about it. From that moment on, I haven't been sad about losing my legs for a minute,” Kajlich said.
Six years ago, soon after his father passed away, Kajlich took up cycling after finding a used racing wheelchair on Craigslist. He started participating in triathlons and won an Ironman World Championship.
RAAM was the natural next step for him, he says. Though, even with all of the strides he has made physically, Kajlich says respect hasn’t always come with it.
“I may be 250 miles in and you go by a group of riders. I've actually had a lady say, ‘Oh that's cute.’ It's like, yeah, thanks, appreciate it. I'm also going to race across America,” Kajlich said.
Even so, he says he is not racing across the country to prove anything to anyone.
“It’s for me,” he said. “To kind of see what I went through with the accident, the huge obstacle, one just acceptance, kind of getting back to life and being okay with what happened.”
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