By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Hudson High School junior Owen Anketell, an athlete and adaptive sports advocate, is less than a year away from the start of a 2,900-mile bike ride to raise awareness of athletes with disabilities and the opportunities that adaptive sports provide.
Anketell and his family recently finalized plans for the ride, which will begin at the end of June 2017, and end in August. The ride will take Anketell, his friend Matt Farrell, and his cousin Bryce Coffey from Calais, Maine, to Key West, Fla. with stops at rehabilitation hospitals along the way where Anketell will give speeches. Anketell suffers from a condition that has left him with limited control of his legs and will ride using a handcycle which he powers using his arms.
Through his ride and his public speaking, Anketell will be spreading a message of optimism and perseverance.
“A lot of my friends who are in wheelchairs have talked to me about how they were in accidents in a car or a snowmobile or something else,” Anketell said. “They thought right after the accident that nothing would be the same. But they’ve shown me, and they’ve shown themselves, that anything is possible. I just want to show that to everybody.”
The ride will cost approximately $50,000, a sum that Anketell and his family are trying to raise through sponsorships and individual donations. Over the course of the ride, Anketell and his fellow riders will all need to be able to find lodging and buy food. Additionally, the family recently needed to buy a trailer to tow behind their pickup truck on the ride to carry supplies and equipment that they may need.
“We’re talking with big sponsors and trying to get any support because anything helps,” Anketell said. “It’s a lot of money to raise but there are a lot of organizations that are interested in helping.”
For Anketell, monetary support for his ride comes after nearly 13 years of support from his family, friends and coaches.
He started skiing when he was 3 years old through New England Disabled Sports at Loon Mountain in New Hampshire. Four years later, the same program introduced him to cycling, a sport with which he has since fallen in love.
“It’s an individual sport,” Anketell said. “It’s able to build up my strength and I’ve been able to show the strength I have through this sport.”
Cycling is unique for Anketell because it has created a place where he is understood by those around him largely due to the experiences he and his coaches share.
“Before I went up there, I didn’t know many people in wheelchairs that had experienced this and knew what it’s like to be disabled,” he said. “But when I walked in there, I felt so welcome, Everyone understood what it’s like to be in a wheelchair and that there’s no differences whether you’re in a wheelchair or not.”
For Farrell, seeing his friend excel not only in cycling, but in skiing, tennis, and waterskiing as well, has empowered him to try new sports himself and push harder to succeed in the sports in which he is already involved.
Farrell said Anketell is the reason he learned to ski, taking up the sport around age 10 after he watched Anketell race in New Hampshire. Since then, Farrell, a three-sport varsity athlete, said that riding with Anketell has “empowered” him to train more vigorously for his own races.
Looking forward to the ride next summer, Farrell hopes that Anketell can use the platform he has created to inspire more people, especially disabled people, whose experiences Anketell understands.
“When they go somewhere and see Owen speaking about how he skis, bikes and waterskis, they’re going to feel empowered to go out and do that themselves because they see how amazing it is,” Farrell said.
For Anketell, the trip serves many purposes – proving once again that he can succeed in the most grueling of physical feats, opening the eyes of others to the world of disabled sports, and continuing an athletic career that he cherishes.
“I’ve been able to learn so much and do so much through adaptive sports,” he said. “I’ve been able to meet great people and I don’t want it to end.”
To donate to Anketell to help fund his ride, make checks payable to Adaptive Sports Awareness and mail to Owen Anketell, 251 Manning St., Hudson, MA 01749.