By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Just days after being honored at the White House, U.S. Paralympic cyclist and stroke survivor Billy Lister was back on a bike in Denver, encouraging people to improve their heart and brain health through cycling.
Lister spoke Sunday at a local CycleNation event, part of a national American Heart Association and American Stroke Association initiative to get people on bikes, while raising funds at cycling events to reduce stroke and heart disease.
CycleNation is showing people how to prevent stroke, but also is meant to show survivors that stroke is not the end, it’s just the beginning, he said.
Lister shared that his mantra is “every day.”
“Every day, if you choose — and any survivor always has the right to choose — is an opportunity to find what you love, do what you’ve never done, and be better in some way than the day before,” he said, adding that physical and mental recovery will naturally take shape with that attitude.
“My recovery is still ongoing and will last my lifetime,” said Lister, 34. “Recovery isn’t simply working in a rehab office for 30 minutes a day four days a week; it is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week fight for action.”
Lister’s discovery of Paralympic sports in 2011 was a cataclysmic moment that gave him a second chance at life. He had had a stroke 12 years earlier, just one month after his 17th birthday.
The stroke resulted from complications to treat an arteriovenous malformation, which broke off and traveled through the brain, causing a month-long stroke. An AVM is a tangled network of malfunctioning blood vessels in the brain.
He didn’t know from one day to the next what the stroke would do. He lost the ability to type on a keyboard, then he was unable to tie his shoes. By the time the stroke stopped, he was paralyzed on the left side of his body.
For more than a decade after, he struggled to find himself.
Then he got on a bike for the first time since his stroke at an event hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation in 2011. With the organization’s help, he learned to ride again and two years later, dedicated himself to Paralympic cycling.
In 2015, Lister accepted an offer to live and train full time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, “to prepare myself for the ride of a lifetime.”
He made the U.S. Paralympic cycling team and competed in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro last month.
Lister will continue to train at the facility in Colorado Springs to prepare for the Tokyo 2020 games.
He tells his fellow stroke survivors that everyone’s experiences are their own and should be heralded.
“Whether that’s trying something actively new, completing a 5k walk; or simply making it out of the house to the local market,” he said. “Experiences are what we make of them, and if you ‘own’ yours, without question then no matter the outcome you have already succeeded.”