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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Blind cyclist has open seat to fill

Bryant McKinley sits on one of his four tandem bicycles at his Spokane home Monday, May 21, 2012.  An avid cyclist for many years, McKinley, who is blind, is now hunting for someone who would like to help him ride and compete as a tandem team. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Bryant McKinley is a man of contrasts, the least of which is the bright yellow shirt tucked into his black cycling shorts. The 75-year-old has the legs of a man half his age and the ambitions of a teenager, which includes competing in the national masters cycling championships this fall. He also has a vision, which is a bit ironic. McKinley is blind, and has been for more than three decades, but lives independently in a north Spokane home. But independence ends where his fun begins – on the road. The vision? That would be him wearing a special jersey – not a yellow one, but the coveted Stars and Stripes jersey that has eluded him for almost a quarter-century. In 1988, he won the nationals, but not the jersey, which has been awarded every year since. The goal is first place – and the jersey – at the USA National Masters Cycling Championships in September in Bend, Ore., a 70-mile road race. That’s why McKinley needs a partner for his tandem bike, an experienced cyclist who’s willing to train 15 hours a week with an ambition to compete at the masters’ national and international level. “And I hope they smell good,” said McKinley, “Since I’ll be right behind them.” McKinley has seldom taken a back seat in anything. The former auto salesman raced cars and motorcyles competitively in the 1960s and ‘70s, then found his passion in bicycling. That was in 1977, the same year he was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosis, a degenerative condition affecting the retina. He helped found the successful Summer Series races in Spokane; he was a visionary even as his eyesight begain to fail. He treats the disability matter-of-factly, learning to adapt and learning, through experience, the location of every fire hydrant in Spokane. His sight worsened in the mid-’80s, but he continued to ride solo, resorting to hanging out the side of his truck the night before a race, painting white stripes on the shoulders he would confront the next day. “It was the only way for me to tell where the edge of the road was.” Switching to tandem racing, he and his partner, surgeon Richard Howland of Spokane, won the nationals in 1988, the last year they didn’t give out the Stars and Stripes jersey. He won the gold medal in the tandem road race at the National Games for the Disabled in 1989. Later, he competed in France and Spain, including the World Paralympics in Barcelona in 1991. “The international stuff is fun because of all the types of people you meet,” he said. “And we actually did pretty well.” Later in 1997, he and his partner were on the way to winning the Stars and Stripes jersey, but suffered a blown tire late in the race. He has competed “many times” in events sanctioned by the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and has also run Bloomsday. This year, he finished fifth in the 75-79 age group with a time of 1 hour, 11 minutes, 39 seconds. “I think I was the only one there; I didn’t see anybody else,” he said, chuckling at his joke. For Bloomsday, McKinley trains with a cane, then finds a partner to run the race. They run together in file, each holding one end of the cane to maintain the same pace. But cycling is McKinley’s life passion. “It’s the competitiveness, and it’s a sport that a person can do your whole life, and it’s not so hard on your knees and joints. Not mine, but it’s a problem for some people.” —- If you or someone you know can ride with Bryant McKinley, please call him at (509) 328-9523.