Paralympian Stephanie Dixon get into her handcycle for the first time at Saunders Subaru in Colwood. The handcycle was donated to her through the Saunders Family Foundation and Bob Saunders (right).

Paralympian swimmer hits the road

Saunders athletics foundation donates handcycle to Stephanie Dixon

With the help of Colwood business owner Bob Saunders and his athletics foundation, paralympian Stephanie Dixon gets to try something new.

Well known for her swimming career, Dixon is hanging up her goggles and strapping on a helmet. To help her pursue competing in triathlons, on Wednesday the Saunders Family Foundation donated a specialized hand-cranked three-wheel bike to Dixon, known as a handcycle.

“It’s lower to the ground and more aerodynamic (than a standard bike),” Dixon said. “Instead of pumping with your legs you are pumping with your arms.”

Dixon, 27, does have a standard bicycle, but with her body weight on one side, it makes it hard to race, she said.

The money raised to purchase the $6,000 handcycle came from the Saunders foundation golf tournament held last May. “There is no way I could have afforded this on my own,” Dixon said.

Saunders credits the golfers who attended his tournament for making the donation possible. To help raise money at the tournament, Dixon teed off against other golfers to see who could out drive each other. The catch – the golfers took their swing standing on one leg, as Dixon did.

If Dixon’s ball shot farther, the golfer had to donate $10. Not many people could beat her, Saunders said. “She changes the heart, she is the most inspirational person I’ve meet,” he said. “This lady is an inspiration where ever she goes.”

At the Subaru Western triathlon at Shawnigan Lake in 2009, Saunders was watching the swimmers compete when he saw Dixon fly out of the water as she raced against able-bodied athletes. Dixon competed in a relay format, where other athletes completed the bike and run portion.

Dixon was born without her right leg or hip, but that has never slowed her down.

“I went up to her and said ‘why aren’t you competing in the whole triathlon?’” Saunders said.

Dixon responded she would need a handcycle. At that moment, Saunders decided he would get her one.

“Bob always says I am inspiring people, but he is inspiring me,” Dixon said.

In order to compete in sanctioned races, Dixon needs to use a kneeling handcycle, as opposed to one where she can sit upright.

This September Dixon will retire from competition swimming. For her to achieve her dreams as a paralympian, she said she has had many people supporting and helping her out. Now she wants to be that person for other athletes, she said.

Over her career Dixon has competed in last three summer paralympic games and earned 19 medals, including seven gold. Dixon has set world and national records competing against both able-bodied and disabled swimmers.

She competed on the University of Victoria swim team in 2004 and 2005. Both years she was named athlete of the year at the university.

Now Dixon is pursuing cycling and triathlon at a recreational level. She will use a racing wheelchair for the running portion of future competitions.

Last year the Saunders foundation donated about $40,000 towards sports organizations and athletes. He said the foundation is growing and his goal is to donate $100,000 a year.

Saunders is always looking to help other young athletes and is interested in hearing from anyone who could use the help of the Saunders Family Foundation. For more information call Saunders Subaru at 250-474-2211.



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