(CNN)Throughout his life, cycling has been a form of solace for Oz Sanchez. From the age of 12 or 13, he remembers being out on a bike even in the small hours.
“I would leave the house sometimes at two or three in the morning for whatever frustrations I was dealing with and just ride under the moonlight in the local hills and mountains,” Sanchez tells CNN Sport.That may have been more than 30 years ago, and the bike he rides today may be different to the mountain bike he rode as a kid, but the allure of the sport remains the same.These days, cycling is also his career. One of the top handcyclists in the world, Sanchez is a six-time medalist across three Paralympic Games and also has multiple world championship titles.It was in the years following a spinal cord injury, sustained during a motorcycle accident in 2001, that Sanchez discovered handcycling; the impact the sport had on his life was immediate.”When I first started riding, literally just going around the block was a feat in and of itself,” he says.
“But it made me feel so alive because of the adrenaline and the blood pumping and just the feel-good chemicals of working out.”It became addictive, but it was all still mostly just the idea of getting out of the house and releasing my frustrations with my broken back and the accident.”
‘The journey, not the destination’
Having joined the US Marine Corps in 1996, Sanchez was in the process of transferring to the Navy as a Navy SEAL at the time of the accident.”We’re talking about a transition from special operations, kicking doors and hostage rescue type mentalities of military operations to now: you broke your back, you did some permanent damage, you’re never going to walk again,” says Sanchez.”I mean, the idea of me being competitive at any level at that point wasn’t on my mind at all. It was literally just so I can get out of the house and keep me from going insane.”But over the years, Sanchez gradually transitioned into racing and was introduced to the US Paralympic team ahead of Beijing 2008. BBC