How Paracycling Lit a Fire in Safety Engineer Jerry
At just nine months old, Jerry contracted transverse myelitis, a viral infection which, similar to multiple sclerosis, attacks the spinal cord. Treatments were limited at the time, and Jerry was left with partial paralysis in his legs.
By the age of eight or nine, doctors told his family there was no further care they could provide. But Jerry was inspired by a quote by another Jerry – football legend Jerry Rice, who once said, “I will do today what others won’t so that tomorrow I can do what others can’t.” That quote helped mold Jerry into a person who strives to do more than others expect, and help others do the same, no matter what that looks like for them.
For Jerry, this includes advocating for fellow employees with disabilities at work, and pushing himself in hand cycling, also known as para-cycling.
Today, Jerry is a safety engineer at Northrop Grumman’s Promontory, Utah location. At work, Jerry is an advocate for employees with disabilities, working with VOICE employee resource group (ERG) leadership, as well as facilities and executive leadership, to make his site’s facilities more accessible for those with disabilities.
“The VOICE ERG shows the level of Northrop Grumman support to help ensure inclusion for employees with disabilities,” said Jerry. “I’ve never felt like I couldn’t express a concern or need to management. More often, I am approached with the offer for accommodation rather than having to ask.”
Outside of the office, he enjoys finding outdoor activities that can accommodate his disability and, in 2011, Jerry discovered hand cycling. This is a type of bicycling that enables riders to pedal and steer using their hands.
Within a month, he’d purchased a used para-cycle. For two years, Jerry trained and competed in local races, as well as a few marathons that allowed para-cycles, and hired a cycling coach.
“Pain becomes your friend as you have to learn how to get along with each other at some very intense times; sometimes, we argue with each other, but most of the time I win,” said Jerry of his training experience.
In 2013, Jerry started competing on the national racing circuit. Going into the first race of the season, he said he felt like he could beat anyone.
“I couldn’t have been more wrong”, said Jerry, reflecting on his first race. “I wasn’t the slowest guy on the course but was nowhere near the lead group. But the fire was lit and I was hooked; this was something I knew I could do well without any of the limitations or accommodations I normally had to deal with. I was able to compete with others on a level playing field.”
Between 2016 and 2019, Jerry competed in the USA Cycling Para-Cycling National Championships where he won gold, silver and bronze medals in various events — including time trial, road race and criterium — over the course of four years.
“I was able to compete at the national level and earned some medals and championship jerseys along the way,” said Jerry. “To achieve a goal at that level without any limitations was life changing for me. I owe that success in part to some incredible para-athletes I competed against that pushed me to work harder than I’ve ever had to.”
In 2020, the COVID pandemic resulted in the cancellation of the entire racing season; in 2021, limited racing events were held. After that hiatus from racing, Jerry now considers himself retired, although he continues to train and plans to stay involved in the para-cycling community.
Jerry said Jerry Rice’s quote about working to do what he and others can’t inspires both his dedication to hand cycling and disability advocacy at work. “It reminds me that I have to be willing to put in the necessary effort to make living with a disability easier for everyone,” he said. “That includes my work life — by working with the VOICE ERG to make areas of our site more accessible. I can do tomorrow what I, and others, couldn’t do today.”<ng-card-grid class="wp-block-northrop-grumman-card-grid is-style-light"> </ng-card-grid>
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