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Matt Bigos: Pushing the Limits of Para-Cycling

by Jeffrey Stern August 31, 2017

If you’ve been an athlete you’re whole life and then one day someone tells you that you might never be able to compete again, how would you respond? For U.S. Paralympic National Team member Matt Bigos, he knew he wouldn’t give in easily because he’s too driven to success.

In 1993, Bigos started racing motocross and got hooked instantly, spending the next decade moving up through the ranks and building some of the best relationships in his life. It was during a trip to visit longtime friend Travis Pastrana in 2003 for outdoor nationals that a near fatal accident changed his life forever, paralyzing him from the chest down. He spent three months in the hospital and six weeks in the ICU, followed by a month in intensive rehabilitation.

Bigos spent the next year in a wheelchair while progressing through the stages of his rehab. Miraculously and slowly he moved onto walking short distances with assistance. Once he saw this improvement, he was determined to keep progressing. “I refused to get back in a chair because my life was on hold until I was better,” he told us in a recent interview.

“Having grown up as an athlete and being an athlete my whole life, my life and what I new life as was not in wheelchair, it was just not an option,” he continued.

He picked up cycling originally for rehab, starting with a spin bike, then a mountain bike to get outside and for a new challenge. After a few years, he reached a point in his rehab where he had gotten back as much function as was physically possible. He knew he suffered enough nerve damage that going back to his first passion, motocross, was never an option, but he still loved two wheels and going fast.

One thing led to another and Bigos found himself on a road bike and registered for an Ironman triathlon on a bet from someone at a gym he was working out at then. “There is no way you could ever to do anything like that,” Bigos recalled his challenger saying to him. All that did was fuel his fire. “One sure fire way to get me to do something is to tell me I can’t do it.”

HOOKED ON CYCLING

In 2008, a few people from the National Team reached out to Bigos and asked him if he had ever considered para cycling as a sport. After talking with the team director and expressing his enthusiasm he was ready to commit to training to become an elite athlete once again. An opportunity and moment in life he always knew he would get too through pure perseverance.  

One of the top racers for the U.S. Paralympic National Team, Bigos races up to 50 days per year with a mix between the World Cups in Europe and around the world, to local Southern California road events near his home in San Diego, California.

It’s an impressive sight to see him line up at a local P/1/2 race and initially surprising to his competitors. “When I first started racing people were freaked out by me being there.” Even though Bigos doesn’t necessarily look like a para athlete just sitting on the bike.

“When I ride, I tend to push a lot bigger gear because my hip stabilizer and core muscles don’t work well.” His hips tend to rock back and forth a lot which makes it look uncomfortable, but the bike actually stays stationary.

PHYSICAL LIMITATIONS

Because of the massive amount of nerve damage he suffered to his spinal cord, it’s like he has severe multiple sclerosis. His lower back, core, hamstrings, and glute strength will never be the same because the neuromuscular signals are not there, and they’re never coming back. Bigos compensates on the road by using his arms and shoulders. Over the years he’s learned to adapt. Grinding a harder gear helps him take the hamstring and glutes out of the equation so he can really put out the power. It also helps to negate core stability issues he finds when spinning an easy gear.

Naturally, climbing comes easy and flat roads are hard. “Time trials are horrible,” he says with a smile, “But I’m too stubborn to know I’m not supposed to be good at something.” So he’s always looking for a training edge to improve.

A new coach and training regimen have helped push his power up 10-12% over the past two years. Bigos is also familiar with using sodium bicarbonate in training, “I know what happens when you drink it,” he said, “It’s not pretty, but you can’t deny the benefits if you can stomach it.”

INTRODUCTION TO TOPICAL EDGE

When he heard about the topical application method of Topical Edge through Rally Cycling, he was skeptical at first. Without much feeling in his legs, he doesn’t get that lactic acid burn in his legs, no matter how hard he goes.

“The first couple times I used the product, I was finding where my burn line was by trial and error and riding using a power meter.” Because of the lack of sensations he gets from his lower half,“My legs just shut off without warning when I go into the red.”

Almost immediately Bigos saw, “That wall being pushed farther away. I had to re-learn where my new limits were; a new challenge, but a good one to have,” he said.

His spinal cord injury also causes him not to sweat from the waistline down, a regulatory issue that he has to manage during long, hot days in the saddle. Topical Edge, has the huge additional benefit of creating some moisture on his legs while he’s riding. Not only is he getting the buffering ability that able bodied athletes experience, but also a natural cooling to his legs, helping to keep his core temperature down.

“I didn’t even catch it the first few times I used it, but my coach caught the higher power numbers while the perceived effort from my workout was the same.”

Bigos and his coach have coined the term, the edge cooling effect.

As long as Bigos stays determined, working to the maximize the potential from his body so that he can still compete, he’ll continue to help change the perception of the athletic limits of para cyclists all over the world.



Jeffrey Stern

Author

After cutting his teeth in the professional sports world working in sales for the Giants, Jeffrey found his passion for all things two wheels that pose a challenge and involves adventure. He also loves dogs, trail running, storytelling and afternoon recovery naps in hammocks.