No medal, but a silver lining for Neimanas

Chicago Tribune

Greta Neimanas was bummed about coming home from the Paralympics that ended Sunday in London without a medal.

It was even more disappointing for the road and track cyclist from Chicago that she came so close – fourth in the road time trial, fifth in the track 500-meter time trial.

“But I can’t be disappointed in my effort,” she said.  “Unfortunately, it didn’t result in a medal.”

And there is another way to look at what Neimanas did in London.

She was a big reason why British Paralympic cyclist Jon Allan-Butterworth wound up with three silver medals in the velodrome.

“Without Greta's help I might of never taken up cycling,” Butterworth said in an email.

Neimanas, 24, has worn a prosthetic lower left arm since a birth defect stopped growth of bones below her elbow.

Butterworth, 26, lost his left arm above the elbow in an Aug. 4, 2007 rocket attack at Basra, Iraq, where he was serving in the Royal Air Force.

The two met at San Diego in December, 2008, when Butterworth came to the United States to take part in a Wounded Warrior Project camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.  Neimanas, who also had competed at the 2008 Paralympics, was working with the cyclists.

“He didn’t want to get on the track because he wasn’t comfortable,” Neimanas recalled.  “Whatever I said obviously was enough to get him out there.  I wish I could remember what it was, but it must have been pretty good.”

The issue was both physical and psychological.  Butterworth’s prosthetic device left him uncomfortable on a track cycle.

Neimanas loaned him one of hers devices.

“I was struggling to ride a bike with my current arm,” Butterworth wrote.  “It was then Greta showed me an attachment that she uses, (and) it fit onto my arm.  It was then I was able to cycle for the first time.”

That Butterworth suddenly was able to enjoy cycling is what Neimanas remembers most about an encounter that didn’t seem like a big deal to her at the time.

“By the end of the session, he didn’t want to leave the track,” she said.  “He has taken off from there and been very successful.”

Butterworth got a prosthesis similar to the one he borrowed from Neimanas and won 2011 and 2012 Paracycling world titles in the kilometer time trial.  His London medals came in the kilometer time trial, individual pursuit and mixed team time trial.

Butterworth’s success is just one of the reasons why Neimanas’ 2012 Paralympics were such a happy contrast to her first Games in Beijing.

Her father, with whom Neimanas long had a troubled relationship, died Aug, 7, 2008, one month before her first Paralympic race. She had flown back to her home in Bucktown to be with him at the end, returned to her training base in Colorado Springs the next day and went on to Beijing, while her family remained in Chicago.

That she also managed a fourth and a fifth in China was remarkable given her emotional state.  Neimanas was so drained after her final race she curled up in a fetal position on the ground.

Her mother, brother and sister made the trip to London.  As she walked into the opening ceremony, Neimanas was able to pick them out in the crowd at the 80,000-seat stadium.

“What are the chances of being able to do that?’’ she said.  “Having that moment, you kind of realize that the Games really are about a lot more than just coming home with a piece of hardware.

“That said, I really, really want one.”

Neimanas figured to get one in London.  She had won silver medals in pursuit and the time trial at February's Paracycling Track World Championship. She went on from there to take the overall title at this season's Paracycling World Cup, a three-event series of road races and time trials.

“Everyone stepped up their game, and something went off track for me at some point during the season,” she said.  “I have to sit down with my coach and see where that happened.

“Chances are I’ll be back in four years.  It is definitely a motivation being that close and not having anything to show for it.”

That is, of course, not the whole picture of Neimanas’ London experience.  It should also include a view of Jon-Allan Butterworth on the awards podium three times.

His story also is something Greta Neimanas can bring to show and tell.


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