Rosa rides courage to fresh start

Cool resident turned tragedy into possible Paralympic bid
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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In the second race of the season, Thea Rosa guided her bike through the course at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. She had already seen the podium in several races over the course of the four-day race and was eager to continue utilizing her newfound skills from the Olympic Training Center. But before she could collect another top finish a spasm set in. Her legs shook uncontrollably and she needed to pedal through so as to not be passed, but stay calm enough to regain control of her body. After a few moments of internal struggle, Rosa regained her composure. But farther down the course she noticed something again was wrong. “I was like, ‘What’s all this white stuff going in my face?’” Rosa said. “I didn’t get it. I’m going 19 miles an hour going into a turn and then I realize that it was my shoe.” The spasm had shaken her foot loose from the foot rest of a handcycle and into a merciless pounding from the spokes of her front wheel. The pain is something that most people would recognize immediately, but for Rosa and her fellow para-cyclists, it’s not so easy to pick up that level of pain. The 44-year-old Cool resident has spent the last two years as a handcyclist and is hopeful to participate in the Paralympics in London this summer. Eight years ago Rosa never envisioned herself as a competitive athlete, let alone one confined to a wheelchair. She was a self-proclaimed cowgirl who came to the United States from the Netherlands when she was 21 years old. People who were once fully functional and then became disabled often call it a rebirth, a time where they found out their true mental and physical limits and find who they really are. Rosa’s anniversary of her rebirth coincidentally fell on Easter this year, the day the Bible recognizes Jesus’ resurrection. The past eight years have been, to say the least, quite a change for Rosa. She admitted that it took her a long time to cope with the reality of her new life, but when she did she committed to helping others. She now volunteers with the Wounded Warriors and is an ambassador for the Ability Center in Sacramento, which assists the disabled with wheelchair ramps, driving aids and more. Through her perseverance, Rosa has also become an inspiration. “I think every individual is stronger than they think they are,” Rosa said. “Once you let that guard down and you really look deep inside yourself it’s a scary moment…It’s like this had to happen for me to understand? I’m glad that it did happen because I hope it made me a better person.” Road to London Rosa wasn’t a competitive athlete before her accident, but she has made herself into one in a relatively short time. She was selected in 2011 to attend a camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and qualified with an emerging time for this year’s Paralympic Games. Her season opened in Melbourne, Fla., where she was in a field chocked full of international competitors, including Monica Bascio, the top female handcyclist in the world. While Rosa was nearly 20 minutes behind Bascio, she finished fifth after battling for third place most of the race. “It was really neat for me to be at the season opener in Melbourne just seeing all these athletes there and competing against Team USA and Team Canada,” Rosa said. “Here’s this still kind of like a nobody from Cool, or the new kid on the block” Rosa is usually the oldest female racer in the field. The women’s division is small with only about seven competitors per race but Rosa is among the top of the group. At the Redlands race in March she finished in the top three in three races and fourth in another two races despite suffering bruising from her foot getting caught in the wheel. Her next race is April 26-29 in Greenville, S.C., but she will take a two-race break from the U.S. Handcycling Series before her next race in part because she wants to hit the high-profile races and partially because of budget restrictions. Rosa has found a few friends and helpful organizations to finance her races but doesn’t have the money to compete in the all of the races. “It’s hard for me because it’s like just how many times can you ask?” Rosa said. “I know people want to help and people say this is the only way they can contribute, we can’t make you walk but we can help you get to where you want to get. Taking that step and asking for help is not always easy.” Victory Velo Bike Shop in Auburn services her bike and orders parts for her at cost, the Ability Center has helped her with race costs in a trade for her help of spreading the word of their work and Cool Fitness has staged fundraisers for her but the costs add up. Her new bike, which is a necessity to compete at the top level, costs thousands of dollars with the carbon rims costing $2,000 alone. “Probably because of her attitude,” said Dan Tebbs, owner of Vicory Velo, of why he helps Rosa. “She is just an amazing person. I mean, for what has happened I think a lot of people would just give up but she’s out there and she is just a great spirit. For us, it’s pretty inspiring that she’s out there competing after the injury that she’s had and nothing really stops her.” Coping with injury Rosa was injured when she was thrown off of a friend’s horse during a trail ride in Cool. The horse landed on her back, broke it and shattered her T12 vertebrae. She was airlifted from Cool to Sutter Roseville where she learned she would never walk again. Her spine wasn’t severed so she still has some feeling in her legs but has lost most motor control. A year after her injury, Rosa revisited the site of her accident on horseback, a hobby she still loves to do. Nothing had changed from the site, the barbed wire was still cut where the paramedics came through to treat her and she could still hear the sound of the helicopter blades whipping in the wind. Even eight years later she gets the chills when she hears a helicopter, no matter how far away. Rosa admitted to some dark periods where she considered suicide, but as a mother of three she couldn’t leave her children. She found strength in helping disabled veterans returning from war and began to live her life with the same energy she had before her accident. Her wheelchair doesn’t define who she is, she said. She still rides horses – hers only now – goes dancing with friends and lives with an upbeat attitude and warming smile that makes you believe nothing bad has ever happened to her. Rosa became a U.S. citizen in March as part of the process to become a Paralympic athlete because she wants to represent the United States, the country she has called home for 23 years, should she make the games. “I think back to all the things that have happened, some have been not so nice and at moments you want to turn everything back,” Rosa said. “Then you look at all the things that you gained, it just puts a smile on my face.”