by Sarah Braker, senior communications manager
Bike riding has saved Jorge Avalos. Twice. In January of 2011, he was doing a skydiving demonstration when something went horribly wrong. “As I was landing I hit a crosswind and my canopy collapsed,” he says. “When it reinflated it was facing down and it accelerated my flight. I hit the ground at 45 mph.” Jorge, who served in the U.S Army for 23 years, crushed his foot, partially amputated his leg and broke his back. After the accident he was paralyzed from the waist down, but two months later he used crutches to walk out of the hospital.
One year after this accident Jorge got on a bike. “I started to use it as my therapy and get more cardio in,” he says. “It was painful but I decided to start riding more and more.” Through a program called Ride to Recovery, Jorge was invited on a 500-mile ride from New Orleans to Tallahassee. “I struggled a lot on that ride mainly because I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. For the next month and a half, Jorge trained every day for a ride from San Antonio to Dallas. “I got to the point where I was one of the stronger riders there,” he says. Following that ride, Jorge was approached by a paralympic cycling coach who was scouting for cyclists. “I took the bait and got bit by the racing bug,” Jorge says. “Instead of training for rides I trained for racing.”
Fast forward a few months to Thanksgiving 2012, or the next time bike riding saved Jorge. “I was on a training ride and I got hit by a pickup truck,” he says. Jorge broke his leg, his back and lost a kidney and found himself hospitalized again. “After my first accident, I was confined to my own body and I couldn’t do anything else,” he says. “I questioned my existence but when I found cycling I felt that sense of freedom again.” To end up injured again did not deter Jorge from cycling. It inspired him not to lose something he loved. “When I got hit,” he says, “my first question to that doctor was, ‘when am I going to ride again?’”
The doctor said he wouldn’t be able to get back on the bike for several months but two months after the accident he was riding again. Despite 10 months of biking with a tube sticking out of his kidney, and infections that landed him in the hospital for two or three days at a time, Jorge pedaled on. Riding he says, “was the motivating factor for me to get better.” At the first Invictus Games in London in 2014, Jorge placed fifth overall in the fastest group in cycling. A couple weeks after that he flew to Colorado for the Warrior Games where he was the C5 cycling champion. In 2015, Jorge decided to participate in the Texas State Time Trial Championships. “I’ve been a three-time state champ for paralympic cycling in that event,” he says. In addition to all this, Jorge also pilots on tandem bikes for blind paracyclists. He also recently completed training in bicycle mechanics and frame building, and plans to start his own business, which will focus in part on crafting custom hand cycles.
Jorge believes that bike riding is good for everyone. “It doesn’t matter what type of bike you ride or how heavy the bike is,” he says. “Just get out there on the road or trail and go a few miles a day.” He encourages people to push their limitations, “because you never know what you’re able to accomplish.” That is the mindset that has allowed him to keep pushing himself on the bike and to take on new challenges. When he thinks about what his life would look like without bike riding, Jorge has no doubt. “I think I would be bored and feeling sorry for myself,” he says. “When I found cycling, I felt that sense of freedom again. I didn’t want to use my injuries as an excuse to do nothing else with my life.”