The Seven-Year Journey Has Sharpened Ryan Pinney’s Resolve As He Aims For Tokyo Para-Cycling Spot

by Joanne C. Gerstner

Ryan Pinney competes at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup on May 8, 2021 in Ostend, Belgium.


Ryan Pinney knows what the big goals are and what he needs to do. He wants to be part of Team USA for this summer’s Paralympic Games in Tokyo. And to do that, he’ll need to show his best in the H3 handcycling events during U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on June 19 in Minneapolis.

But seeing the vision, and then pulling it off in Pinney’s first time at the trials, are certainly two different things. Pinney, a native of Cave Creek, Arizona, has seriously pointed his life to this moment for the past seven years. 
Now, it’s time to go get it.
“You work so hard for so long for a goal like this, so it is strange that it is really here now,” he said. “For me, I cannot look yet beyond doing today’s goal. Stay in today. Train. Prepare. You cannot look too far ahead, like to Tokyo, or you will lose your focus for today.

“I know what I see; I am training really well. I honestly feel really prepared. It’s been in my mind for a long time. This is a very important race for me, a very important ride. If I execute, then Tokyo will come.”
Pinney’s cycling, coming into Minneapolis, is marked by some big finishes in domestic and international events this year. He took two first places, in the individual time trial and road race events, at April’s U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville, Alabama. 
“I wanted everyone to see I was not sitting on the couch eating pizza, cookies and ice cream — I was training hard during the pandemic,” Pinney, 40, said. “It all went to plan, and actually, I have to admit, it even went a little better than I had anticipated.”
Pinney followed up by racing well in Ostend, Belgium, winning his first world cup medal, a silver, in the road race. He also took gold in the team relay event. He said the experience was a little more up-and-down than just basking in his medals.
That’s in part because he also placed ninth in the opening individual time trial, a result that upset him.
“I had to dig deep and think, ‘What is your why?’” Pinney said. “It’s cliché, I know. Why are you riding? Why are you training? Why are you here in Belgium? A lot of people will say it is for their family. I love my wife, my daughter and my family and will do anything for them. But at the end of the day, my why is me. It is not for them. I want this. I want to be the best. I decided for the next race, I was going to go out there, have fun and just be in the moment.”
Moments before the road race, Pinney talked to his handcycle. He has painted it magenta and gray, added his daughter Addison’s initials, the flags of Arizona, Phoenix and the U.S., and threw “Cyclone” on the back. It’s funky and definitely stands out, and it inspires Pinney.

“I know it sounds crazy, but I do talk to my bike,” Pinney said. “So before that race, I looked at the bike and said, ‘I love you, we’re in this together, let’s go.’ I got on the bike and had fun — straight up. It was exhilarating.”
He next stood on his first international podium, knowing he had made a big breakthrough against tough competition.
This journey to the trials has been marked with highs and lows, serving to sharpen Pinney’s resolve. He broke his back in 2012 while BMX riding for fun. Pinney remembers recovering in the hospital and watching the London Paralympics.
“It was on and I knew that was something I could aspire to, work my way to,” he said. “I was always somehow going to be back on the bike. Now, I hope to inspire others with what I do.”
His climb to Team USA took a step back in 2016, when he accepted an 18-month USADA suspension after testing positive for an anabolic steroid after a race. The moment was painful, especially since the reason the drug was in his system was to help Pinney and his wife Meagan try to start a family, he said.
“I took responsibility and had two choices: I could hide for a year and just disappear, or I could make sure people knew I never intentionally tried to cheat. I just didn’t know that was going to be an issue because I was so new to all of this,” Pinney said. “I called up a lot of people (coaches, competitors) and let them know about the situation and how sorry I was.”

Pinney’s life revolves around his cycling and family. Addison, who is 2, likes to tell Pinney how much she loves to see him, “Dada on pink bike.” Meagan wants him to do his best.
And Pinney wants to be the best, because he knows, no matter what happens in Minneapolis, hopefully in Tokyo, and definitely everything beyond, that his world will always be in place.
“This comes down to winning and putting my best foot forward — being on that podium,” Pinney said. “I know I don’t need to win medals for my family to be proud of me. I have the freedom to chase this goal, with all of that support around me. And that’s driving me. I feel their love.”

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for The New York Times and other outlets about sports. She has written for since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.