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Gold medalist reflects on time in London

by Christine Bolin Dascher


Joe Berenyi insists he's just a regular guy. An Average Joe.

However, does the Average Joe own three Paralympic medals? Does the town he lives in throw him a big welcome home celebration for his achievements? Does he mingle with fellow athletes and Olympians? Does he meet the President of the United States - all in a span of one month?

This Joe experienced all the above. Berenyi, one of the 16 members on the United States Paralympic cycling team, won a bronze, silver and gold medal while competing at the Paralympic Games in London Aug. 29 through Sept. 9.

Last Friday, Berenyi and many other athletes representing the United States met President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

By Monday, Bereyni was back in Oswego, trying to enjoy one of the calmer days he's had over the past two months.

"I'm still a dad and husband. I don't feel any different," Berenyi said.

Berenyi, the 43-year-old married father of three, who lost his right arm, broke his leg and shattered a kneecap in an on-the job-accident 18 years ago, experienced the Paralympic games for the first time this year.

The Aurora native and current Oswego resident is just in his second year competing after just four years of racing.

Berenyi left Oswego on Aug. 19 and returned home Sept. 10. He was in Wales for several days before the main event when he broke his jaw on Aug. 22 in an afternoon race. He required 25 stitches, but still continued to compete.

"I got back on the track the day after that and worked my way back into it," said Berenyi, whose jaw is still broken.

In London, Berenyi's first medal was the gold in the Men's Individual C3 Pursuit - his main event - on Aug. 31 in 3:37.912. He previously set the world record in a qualifying heat in 3:36.148.

"That was kind of a surprise," Berenyi said.

Berenyi won the bronze on Sept. 2 in the Mixed C1 to 5 Cycling Team Sprint finals in 52.749 behind China and Great Britain. He was a part of a three-person team. His other teammates were Sam Kavanagh and Jennifer Schuble.

"This one meant a lot to me because (Kavanagh) had been training for six years and missed going to Beijing by a fraction of a second," Berenyi said. "He has pretty much been the team leader. He kept us all positive."

On Sept. 5, Berenyi won a silver medal in the Men's Individual Time Trial in 23:31.73.

"That was a hard course," Berenyi said. "It was a hard race. I couldn't stand up when I got off the bike. I put everything into it."

Berenyi was glad to have Jill, his wife since 1995, and their three daughters, 11-year-old Syd, 8-year-old Gwen and 7-year-old Tatum with him most of the time. They were glad to be there too, and treated the trip like a family vacation.

"Words can't describe the pride we feel for Joe," Jill Berenyi said. "He is an amazingly talented athlete with perseverance like no one else. The girls and I had an outstanding trip to London, one we will never forget."

Five days after winning the silver, Berenyi found himself back in Oswego for what he thought was a car ride over to Elmer's Doghouse in Montgomery for lunch.

Instead, Berenyi ended up at Oswego High School, where he was greeted and cheered on by hundreds of students and the school band.

"I had nothing to do with that. That was a surprise," Berenyi said. "It was great, other than the fact I hadn't slept."

Berenyi, who had all three medals with him, talked with the crowd, especially the special needs students.

"I think it was fantastic for our students to see and meet a person such as Joe who exemplifies the 'no quit' attitude that we want instilled in all our OHS students," Oswego athletic director Darren Howard said. "Life is hard, and we all face adversity, but continuing to fight on and persevere in the face of that adversity is what makes us who we are."

Last Thursday, Berenyi was headed for the White House. After a reception, seeing fellow athletes like swimmer Michael Phelps and track stars Tyson Gay and Lolo Jones and waiting in line behind the U.S. women's rowing team (also gold medal winners), Berenyi finally met the Obamas and Biden - a fellow lefty.

"I didn't take any (photos) with the president," Berenyi said. "They wouldn't let you take any as you went through. People were trying to take them while shaking his hand, but I only have one hand, so obviously, that wasn't going to work for me."

As for being star-struck with all the big names present?

"Obviously it's someone very important - along with seeing a lot of the Olympic athletes...but they are just other athletes," Berenyi said. "It was definitely an experience, and I respect all of them."

Next up for Berenyi is Interbike, an international bicycle expo in Las Vegas. Berenyi, who left for the show on Tuesday, is still looking to get more sponsors, and this is a good place to find them.

What once seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience might be a repeat in 2016 in Rio, the site of the next Olympics.

"It's possible," Berenyi said of competing in Rio. "I do (have time to decide), but I don't. I'm going to continue to do national team stuff...but we'll see."

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