Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2012 5:00 am | Updated: 11:04 pm, Sat Sep 1, 2012.
By DIANE M. REY For Capital Gazette
Clark Rachfal, left, of Annapolis was nominated to for the U.S. Para-cycling team to compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Rachfal began competing as a blind tandem cyclist with his sighted pilot, Dave Swanson, of Tucson, Ariz., after being introduced at a developmental cycling camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center in 2006. The following year the duo would compete for the U.S. Para-cycling National Team.
John Coggin and Clark Rachfal found fun in different places at Annapolis Elementary School on Green Street, where the two met in kindergarten.
“Clark was into athletics and sports. He was outdoors all the time. I always wanted to have my face in a book, reading,” said Coggin.
Despite their differences, the two forged a friendship that has lasted 25 years. Recently Coggin called Rachfal to wish him luck before he headed to London to compete in the Paralympic Games. He’s keeping up with him through Facebook and emails.
“I practically grew up at his home in Annapolis, I spent so much time there,” said Coggin, who lives in Bay Ridge. “I knew his parents well. They’re like a second family.”
Rachfal’s father Kenneth, mother Tanya and sister Rachel were in the stands cheering when he marched into the Olympic stadium with Team USA for the opening ceremonies on Wednesday.
Rachfal, a blind 28-year-old cyclist, is competing with his sighted partner, Dave Swanson, of Tucson, Ariz., as the only tandem team among the 17 cyclists representing the USA.
Rachfal gradually lost most of his sight to a rare genetic disease.
Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the games. The ceremony included a flyover by a disabled pilot and an elaborate show titled “Enlightenment” that included professional performers with disabilities.
Although Rachfal couldn’t really see the crowd during the Parade of Athletes, he’ll never forget the roar they made.
“That alone, was the experience of a lifetime, to come through the tunnel with 80,000 people cheering for you,” said Rachfal in a telephone interview. “It was very emotional.”
He’s tried to be low-key, at least when he’s off the bike.
“I’m really relaxed. I’m feeling well. We raced yesterday and today is a recovery day,” he said.
Their first race, with Swanson in the front or pilot position, and Rachfal in the back as stoker, didn’t turn out like they’d hoped. They came in sixth among eight bikes in the 4-kilometer qualifying race. Only the top four made it to the medal round, led by teams from Australia in the first and second spots.
Nevertheless, Rachfal said they were pleased with some aspects of their performance. He said they started strong and hit their splits in the 16 laps of the 250-meter velodrome. Ultimately, though, it wasn’t enough.
“Speed and time bled away from us a little at the end,” he said.
They’re hoping for better results to come. On Sunday, they’ll be back in the velodrome for the 1-kilometer time trial. Then it’s outdoors for the 24-kilometer tandem trial road race on Wednesday. Their longest race of 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles, is scheduled for Sept. 8, the day before the closing ceremony.
Rachfal said the pair is pinning its hopes on the longer races.
“There are sprinters the size of linebackers who specialize in the explosive sprint events,” he said. “We’re more endurance riders.”
Between races, Rachfal has been relaxing in his townhouse in the Olympic Village and talking with other athletes. The Paralympics were first held in 1960 in Rome. This year’s are the biggest ever, with 4,200 participants representing 165 countries.
The athletes have a variety of cuisines to choose from to make them feel at home, Rachfal said. He’s been keeping up his calorie count at the Asian and Indian area and the Caribbean and African station.
“They’ve got good fruit and fresh veggies and a lot of flavor,” he said.
But there’s one specialty dish that he hasn’t seen on the menu: Maryland blue crabs.
“I plan on getting a bushel of crabs and steaming them up in the backyard when I get home,” he said.
Clark Rachfal, right, cheers to his parents while marching during the opening ceremony for the Paralympic Games.
Clark Rachfal (Annapolis), was nominated to for the U.S. Para-cycling team to compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Clark Rachfal began competing as a blind tandem cyclist with his sighted pilot, Dave Swanson (Tucson, AZ) after being introduced at a developmental cycling camp hosted by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center in 2006. The following year the duo would compete for the U.S. Para-cycling National Team.