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Josh Hartman seeks Olympic gold after horrific accident

DiverseCity

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Guyana native Joshua Hartman has Olympic dreams. - TONYA MILLER
  • Tonya Miller
  • Guyana native Joshua Hartman has Olympic dreams.
It was one of those cold and dreary days that makes April feel like winter again.

But Joshua Hartman, a 20-year-old Team USA track cycling hopeful, met me at his door with a smile and countenance so bright it’d light up any room. Josh, who stays in a rented house near the Olympic Training Center, has his vision focused on Tokyo 2020, as well as the Olympics in 2024 and 2028.

I found this determined young black man — who is competing in the largely white world of cycling — to be the perfect mix of tragedy and triumph that legends are made of. After suffering a major injury, he knows what he’s overcome to get here and how that resolve will lead him to where he’s going.

We connected almost immediately over shared experiences. As a teenager, I told him, I was in a life-altering car accident that broke my neck, and required both my ankle and knee to be reconstructed. I know the road to recovery from major injuries involves not only your body, but your mind. You become a new person overnight, with old memories of what you and your body used to be. It takes time and healing to reconcile the two; some people never do.

Josh, a Guyana native, moved to New York when he was just 8 years old. The son of an electrician and a nursing-home cook, Josh used to ride his BMX around Brooklyn like all the other kids in his neighborhood.

When he was 12, his first cousin twice removed, Randolph Toussaint, a former Olympic cyclist, noticed Josh had real talent, strength, speed and endurance. He decided to commit his time to coaching him. Under Toussaint’s tutelage, Josh took the local cycling community by storm, scoring his first victory against grown men when he was an eighth-grader. Winning became a regular occurrence for Josh, and the drive to do so kept him going. Over the next three years he perfected his ride, and with win after win, dreamed of one day becoming an Olympian.
However, when he was just 15, a tragic accident during the Red Hook Crit, a fixed-gear race, in Brooklyn Navy Yard brought his hopes and dreams to a screeching halt. He lost control of his bike at one point, colliding with a barricade. The crash left him in a medically induced coma, with collapsed lungs, a tracheotomy, a broken eye socket, missing teeth and a permanent scar on the left side of his face that remains a daily reminder of the fall. It was hell to come back from that, and he didn’t know what his future would hold.

If he ever wanted to race again, he would not only have to heal physically, but also heal from the mental trauma and fear an accident like that can bring. Josh says, “There was a big fear for me to get back on a bike, but I had to remember why I was doing it — the Olympics means everything to me.”

So does giving back to his community.

It’s been five years since Josh’s crash and he recognizes the investment from all those around him have helped him to get where he is. The amazing support of his parents and his community in Guyana, his coaches, his cycling community and even people from around the globe who rushed in with donations for his medical expenses after his accident have shaped who he is today. He fully embraces his responsibility to pave the way for the next generation.

Josh plans to compete until his early 30s. After that, he would like to give back to kids in his home state of New York by building a multiplex velodrome and creating after-school cycling programs for kids in Brooklyn. “I want the Josh Hartman brand to help kids get where I am, it is the only right thing to do,” he says.

First, he has got to make it to Tokyo in 2020, and he’s still seeking sponsors to help make that happen. But Josh, who has already overcome so many bigger obstacles, is confident he can realize his dream.

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