Greg Damerow is an athlete and small business owner. Damerow, based in Ohio, is the owner of Personalized Cycling Alternatives, which builds custom adaptive bicycles. He was attracted to handcycling after he became ill with ankylosing spondylitis, a severe form of arthritis that affects the body’s joints. The Hartford recently awarded Damerow with a small business grant, and he spoke with Reuters about competing and running a small business.
First off, can you tell me about your disability?
I was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis at 18 years old. It causes inflammation of the major joints. It’s a form of arthritis. It affects knees, ankles, shoulders. It was a very painful time for me. There are two forms that the disease can take. One is chronic and you lose function over years. The second form moves rapidly. This was the form I had and so I lost function over a matter of months. The major part of the disease burned itself out after about two years time. I was spared. I was essentially bedridden for two years time and as the major symptoms of the disease dissipated finally, I didn’t have any movement in my hip sockets and much secondary damage in the spine. I have limited neck rotation. Out of that experience I learned how to walk again using my knees and ankles.
Can you tell me about how you started your business? What was the attraction of the bike?
I had been working an active job at a small company as a plumber’s assistant and a salesman. I got promoted into dispatch which required a lot of time at a desk. I’ve always been skinny and the disease makes it difficult to stay strong and keep the weight on. When I sit still I don’t gain weight. So it was that promotion into that sedentary job that lead me to look for a way to build myself up.
Once day I was doing some research on the internet and I came across a YouTube video of a guy cranking a handcycle and I thought, “I could do that,” and “I could build that.” When I saw it I knew instantly that’s what I had to do. The first time I rode, I had such a sense of speed and freedom of movement, something I had missed for almost 20 years.