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An Unbreakable Spirit

By Adam Marsal

She may not be able to walk, but this hasn’t stopped twenty-nine year old Petra Hurtová of the Czech Republic from engaging in her passion for cycling. Using a specially designed bike that allows her to pedal with her hands, Petra rides most days, a smile never far from her face. And with racing in her blood, Petra is the epitome of women’s love for cycling.

Brittle Bone Disease

Petra was born with osteogenesis imperfect, a rare disease also known as brittle bone disease or Lobstein syndrome that is characterized by highly breakable bones. Suffering from defective connective tissue, Petra has to date fractured her bones more than sixty times and undergone as many major surgeries.

Things improved after the birth of her son resulted in natural hormonal changes in her body, but it remains exceptionally difficult for her to take more than a few of steps without support and she depends largely on her wheelchair.

Fresh Energy

Petra, who is a member of the Česká Lípa town hall social committee, works for the international humanitarian organization ADRA. In addition, she visits hospitals to provide emotional support to long-term patients and disabled people. “It gives you a lot of fresh energy when you see someone with an apparent handicap who doesn’t complain about their cruel fate,” Petra says.

Discovering Cycling

Petra took up cycling six years ago when she found herself struggling to get her wheelchair down the root-covered country trails she wanted to explore. Instead of giving up, she found a charity that lends hand bikes to disabled people. And that’s when she knew that this was what she’d been craving for all these years. After her first race in the national championship, she decided to buy her own bike.

Built for Speed

Petra’s hand bike, designed by Medicco, has two coasting rear wheels and one steerable front wheel with a standard derailleur powered by hand cranks. In total it weighs 23 kg and costs around EUR 4,000. She uses mountain biking tires to ride over bumpy trails, and mechanical disc brakes help stopping even at high speeds.

“I like to ride very fast, and actually no ordinary bike can keep up with me on the downhill on the tarmac,” Petra says. But each ride also carries a great risk, since with her condition the chances of surviving a crash are minimal.

A Racer’s Spirit

Petra is a three-time winner of the Czech cup and a three-time national champion. “But I’m happy with any finished race,” she says. And there are many of those, as she takes every opportunity to race and push herself as hard as she can. In fact, she takes part in every of the Czech National Cup for the Handicapped, meaning she competes almost every weekend during the season.

All-around Athlete

Petra tries to spend as much time as possible on her bike, averaging some 120 kilometers a week, and more before important races. In addition she swims and works out in the gym. Other achievements she’s proud of include climbing Ještěd mountain in north Bohemia, as well as to the top of Dachstein, a more than 2,000 meters ascent, in the Austrian Alps.

Goals and Dreams 

Petra’s dream is to buy a road hand bike and take part in road cycling tours. “I’d like to race in another countries,” Petra says. “But it’s a question of budget, like in any other sport. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll get to the Paralympic Games.” This year will see her participate in an international cycling marathon whose aim is to raise money for patients with spinal injuries. The race will cover 2,222 km in 111 hours. We’re sure that Petra, like always, will finish this race with a smile on her face.