From an ordinary person’s standpoint, having Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT) and being a competitive cyclist only means one thing for Anthony Zahn: he is burning his candle at both ends. CMT is a genetic condition which affects peripheral nerves, especially those in the legs. By doing high intensity workout as an athlete, he is hastening the progress of his disability.
But Zahn is no ordinary person. It is not because he won a Bronze medal in the individual time trial in France in the 2007 Paralympics. It is not because he successfully repeated that feat in Beijing in 2008 either. A look at his impressive record will show that he also clinched bronze in the time trial events in the UCI-Paracycling in Italy 2009 and in Quebec in 2010. His career resume is also highlighted by a second place finish in time trial and road cycling in the US Paralympics Road Cycling last summer. But again, his career, which we can summarize as awesome, is not the thing that separates Zahn from the rest. It is his character. The rest we can consider a byproduct of that determination and hardheadedness.
Zahn was diagnosed with CMT as a high school student in Riverside Polytechnic. Prior to cycling, he tried several sports like swimming, football, and wrestling. He noticed discomfort in his knees but that did not keep him from falling in love with cycling and joining competitions as an able-bodied athlete. In 1997, he opened his own bike shop in Riverside and continued competing against able-bodied cyclists until 2005. It is in that year that he was approached by a man with muscular dystrophy, and he recognized Zahn’s disability in the cyclist’s skinny legs. The man suggested that he compete as a paralympic athlete, a proposition which he did not readily accept.
Zahn wants to be an able-bodied professional cyclist. But with the progressive degeneration of his extremities, he finally accepted that there is another path set out just for him. He joined the national paracycling team and after just two years, he claimed his first international medal in Bordeaux, France.
However, there is no fairy tale ending for Zahn after his outstanding performance in France. As he gets older, Charcot Marie Tooth is making its presence more felt. Before, he could pick up small things like paper clips. Now fine muscle control is too difficult for him. His legs are also weakening, which is why he could no longer do the things he used to do as a cyclist three or four years ago.
But Zahn is not giving up just yet, and neither is he giving up soon. He wants to compete until 2014, when South Carolina hosts the UCI Paracycling Road World Championships. Until then, he will be counting on the generous support that his wife and the US Paracycling Team give him—and he has not been disappointed so far. One day, CMT might force him to give up cycling entirely. But it can never take away his achievements and the inspiration that he gives to others.