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Disabled bicyclists take off on statewide trek

LOCKPORT – Two disabled bicyclists stopped in Lockport on Monday to promote their third annual ride across the state along the Erie Canalway Trail.

John Robinson, who was born with stumps for arms, and legs consisting only of the portion above the knee, and Doug Hamlin, a quadriplegic since a 1983 trampoline accident, are riding again in the 12-day “Journey Along the Erie Canal.”

They left Sunday from Canalside in Buffalo; left Niawanda Park in the City of Tonawanda on Monday morning before their lunchtime stop in Lockport; and plan to reach Albany on July 10. They are co-founders of an organization called Our Ability, which seeks to raise awareness of the capabilities of the “differently abled.”

The ride this year also marks the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their stop on Canal Street in Lockport was hailed by clients and executives of Opportunities Unlimited of Niagara, as well as Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey, state Canal Corp. Director Brian U. Stratton and other local dignitaries.

Stratton recalled his reaction in 2013 when he was told the two men wanted to take a trip along the canal. He said his off-the-cuff response was “Boats, maybe?”

Robinson and Hamlin said their 2013 effort failed, as they were only able to make it about halfway across the state. “We had inferior equipment. We didn’t know what we were getting into,” Robinson said. “We had trained an awful lot, but you don’t know it until you get out here.”

After an upgrade in their specially designed three-wheeled vehicles, they made it last year, a 363-mile trip from Tonawanda to Albany. This year they added the Buffalo-Tonawanda segment to their route.

Robinson, 46, of Albany, said the Buffalo-Tonawanda ride Sunday lasted about two hours, and Monday morning’s Tonawanda-to-Lockport pedal lasted about 2½ hours.

“We’re trying to take our time, do it right, make sure we conserve our energy and spend time with the community as we meet people,” Robinson said. “The more awareness we can raise to the ability in all of us, the better off we are.”

The men are being accompanied on the road by their wives, Robinson’s two teenage daughters and a friend of Hamlin’s.

Hamlin, a Skaneateles resident who formerly worked for a software company, said he rides lying back on a special bike which costs $5,500 before attachments, such as special hand grips, which could add another $2,000. Among his attachments is a Gatorade holder behind his head connected to a hose he can reach with his mouth.

Although officially a quadriplegic, Hamlin said he has full power in his right hand and partial use of his left hand. “I’m what they call an incomplete injury,” said Hamlin, who was hurt while visiting his sister’s Buffalo home in 1983 and spent three months in Erie County Medical Center.

He said he and Robinson can ride 35 to 40 miles on most days. “We usually eat a huge breakfast and get 20 or 25 miles in before lunch,” Hamlin said. “If I stop for more than half an hour it’s really hard to get going again.”

“I think Doug and John’s story is a lot like the story of those who engineered the canal 200 years ago. There were a lot of people who thought the canal could not be built,” Stratton said. “Their story is the whole story of the canal: access, opportunity, enriching the lives for everyone along the canal.”