Growing up in Vermont, Alicia Dana was an accomplished athlete in cycling and cross-country skiing. By the time she was a teenager, Dana was nationally ranked in both sports. At 17 years old, her life changed in flash – she fell from a tree and became paralyzed from the waist down. It was a devastating and emotional time for Dana, but she was determined to continue to excel in her athletic career. Dana then discovered the handcycle.
“I got my first one and there was no looking back,” she told VPR News. “It felt like being me again, like a part of me that had come back together again. I became part of a group that rode across the U.S. to raise money for some different nonprofit organizations.”
But Dana wanted more. She started to compete in the handcycle in international events. Dana ultimately received an invitation to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. She shared her experience in Vermont Sports,
“At that clinic, I learned what it takes to get onto a team and what training really involves. It gave me a real jump start and got me motivated, focused, and some tools to work with.”
Dana used those tools to become one of the most dominant hand cyclists in the world. She made the U.S. national team in 2001 and competed in the 2002 world championships before taking a break from the sport to raise her daughter, Willa.
Dana took nearly 10 years off before getting the itch to compete again. When she did, it was like she never left. Dana made the 2012 and 2016 Paralympics, winning a silver medal in the Rio Games. Things got better for Dana in 2018 when she achieved the ultimate dream for a New England native. She won the Boston Marathon in the handcycling division. She recalled in the Burlington Free Press,
“My best memory from the race was crossing the finish line knowing that I survived the race. Other than that, to hear the cheering was amazing. The fans really helped keep me going,”
Dana blew away the competition to win the 2019 World Championship in the Netherlands. In an interview with Team USA’s site, she summed up her emotions.
“It feels amazing. I had wanted a world championship since 2014. It’s eluded me until now and I was wanting this so badly. It just feels incredible. I had a bad break but there was so much out there for me and I took advantage of it. I never stopped living and I found something that I truly loved and I’m thankful.”
Dana is hoping to compete in the 2021 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, but for now, she’s happy being a role model for inspiration to others.