October 19, 2014 2:58 pm / Category: Uncategorized
Keeping the Challenged Athlete spirit alive. This month we are highlighting a very talented and inspiring individual, Billy Lister. He has seen life on both sides of the spectrum, spending half his life as an active athletic child and adolescent to having his world drastically changed and rediscovering his new potential and strength. Having earned a spot on the USA Paracycling team, Billy left his east coast home to make sunny southern california his new training grounds.
What kind of kid were you?
I was an athlete growing up, playing anything that would get me on a field. Sport was a lifestyle, and I was good at it.
At 15 your life took a bit of a turn….?
It was the spring during my freshman year of High School, of which I was newly entered into and was just getting to know my classmates; Springtime on Long Island, NY meant Lacrosse season.
A few weeks into the season, I started getting really bad headaches after practice. These were not garden variety headaches, and often forced me to go straight to bed once I got home. My parents took me in to see my doctor; but after multiple routine tests, nothing out of the ordinary showed up. Until my doctor decided to get an MRI scan of my sinuses, which he thought might be a major infection causing the headaches. Now, when you get a standard sinus MRI scan, it actually partially shows the lower hemisphere of your brain stem; and with nothing short of pure genuine luck on the uppermost corner of the scan is where they found the abnormality in my brain. To create a perspective of analogy, it’d be like falling into a haystack and finding a needle with Babe Ruth’s rookie baseball card attached to it.
What was the abnormality?
AVM is short for Arteriovenous Malformation, which often refers to a blood vessel in your brain that shouldn’t technically be there. It is something congenital (though not genetic), but serves no cerebral function. The danger it poses however, is very real; as at any time without warning it can rupture and can cause a brain hemorrhage. Many people can live a full and healthy life with an AVM and will never know the threat they face, while the fate of other less fortunate is marred in tragedy.
It only took a few days before I was sitting in front of the World’s leading Neurosurgeon at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City being told about my diagnosis. The most beyond imagination aspect of these chain of events was the headaches I was getting were completely unrelated to my diagnosis. It turned out I was just a stressed out High School kid.. go figure
To correct the malformation, I underwent invasive brain surgery at the age of 16. The surgery was a success in treating the AVM; however as a complication I started experiencing some swelling in my brain several months post op. The swelling led to some loss of function on my left side. I immediately underwent intensive physical rehab and was making strong gains, but then in June of 1999 at the age of 17 I suffered a stroke. My stroke was a very atypical event, where it actually was a slow and regressive process. Each day I woke up and couldn’t do something I could the day before; type on a keyboard, tie my shoes, brush my teeth, and eventually the ability to run. After about 4 weeks the episode had finally ceased leaving me in the full left side hemi paresis state I’m in today.
I’d been an athlete my whole life, playing everything I could find the time for. So when sports were slowly taken away from me, it was a tremendous burden to cope with. For many years I was coasting through life, going through the motions as a kid learning how to survive with a disability. And in that is a monumental point; I was only surviving life, I wasn’t living it.
What was the turning point that made you go from “just surviving life, to living it”?
There are certain junctures in life that shape the individual and person you become, and the path that you journey on. My stroke was obviously the first such moment, altering my future and the challenges I would face for the rest of my life. Other moments point you in a direction to where you belong in this world, and can be an awakening to what is possible. That second such instance was in August of 2011 when I attended a Paratriathlon camp for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and got on a bike for the first time since I was 17 years old.
Since getting involved with CAF, where has life on two wheels taken you?
In the past 3 years since learning to ride a bicycle, I had competed in over 20 triathlons; reaching the podium in several of the National Paratriathlon races, and ultimately winning the points championship in the 2012 USA Paratriathlon series.
After relocating to Southern California, it didn’t take long to realize that my true athletic passion lied in the form of 2 wheels and a saddle. Only a few months after my relocation, in November 2013 I fully dedicated my training to the realm of Paracycling; and in less than 10 months managed to accumulate an abundance of highlights and growth trajectory potential.
In my very first cycling event, I entered into the US Indoor Track Paracycling National Championships at the LA Velodrome at the end of November 2013. Having only ridden a track bike twice in my life the week prior leading up, I came away with the victory in both of the events I entered. By the end of the weekend I had become a two time National Champion in the Men’s C2 Division, 3 Kilometer Individual Pursuit as well the 1 Kilometer Time Trial.
Once my target became racing on the Road, huge results quickly came into line. Based on my 1st place performance at the selection race in conjunction with US Pro Championships, I was named to the Team USA roster for the UCI Paracycling World Cup in Segovia, Spain.
Additionally given my times and ranking held throughout the US Paracycling National Championships weekend, am proud to announce I was also chosen to the World Championships team to represent Team USA on our home soil, a once in a lifetime opportunity. My ascension onto Team USA Paralympic Cycling has been explosive, but my growth potential is seen as an even greater advantage. With the ultimate goal to compete for the United States of America at the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.