- Casey Gibson
- Allison Jones has a new motivation after her father was killed in a July 4 plane crash.
When Paralympian Allison Jones needed advice about her cycling equipment, she would ask her father.
"I remember I was fresh off the Athens Olympics, I was at my dad's place and trying to explain what I wanted to build," Jones says. "We were at the table, so I used a ketchup bottle, a pepper shaker, a spoon and napkin. I can't draw, so I was trying to explain it all in three dimensions."
Allison was born without a femur (thigh bone) in her right leg. She needed a specialized "strut," an adaptive device that would allow her to stand on the pedals of her racing bikes to create more power and faster speeds.
That's all it took for Jay Jones to grasp his daughter's thoughts. His creativity with mechanical tinkering took over.
"We had this idea and it wasn't going anywhere, and suddenly he pulls out a soup ladle and I could see the lightbulb go on in his head," she says. "From that point on, we worked together building faster parts out of carbon."
At the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London, with her father's help, Jones charged to the gold medal in the individual time trial — the physically painful "race of truth" as cyclists know it. Now she is preparing to compete in her eighth Paralympic Games next month in Rio de Janeiro where the truth is going to be emotional.
She'll race there in memory of her father, who died in a plane crash near Buena Vista on July 4. Flying home from Leadville, Jones reported mechanical problems with the single-engine experimental aircraft. Known as a kind and giving person, he crash-landed in an open field and was heralded as a hero for avoiding nearby homes.
"I know he's going to be there with me," Allison says.
Every pedal stroke will be a small reminder of what they accomplished together.
"He was instrumental in teaching me to design things," Jones says. "I could always ride a bike, but he helped me ride a bike faster. Hopefully I learned enough, hopefully I can use all that he taught me so that I can build my own [equipment.]"
Jones, 32, turned to her bike to deal with the grief of losing her father. She is quiet and humble, a popular rider in the cycling community with a dry wit and half-smile. Like any world-class athlete, she is driven, a little dreamy, but focused. She pedaled through the tough weeks and continued preparing for Rio's Paralympics starting Sept. 7.
"My father passing away threw a big wrench in the training program," she says. "Dealing with family stuff ... the bike was a good place for me to go through the stresses that come with someone passing."
She'll compete in the time trial again, plus the cycling road race and two events at the Rio velodrome, the 500-meter sprint and 3K pursuit.
"I love the track more, but I think my body and how I ride are very much suited for the time trial," she says. "That became my specialty in 2004, and if I'm having a good day I could be right up there in the road race."
The time trial is mentally and physically demanding.
"Learning how to get in the pain cave, where your body wants to tell you to stop, and hanging out and making friends with the pain... that's what it's like," she says.
"It's definitely a required taste, and definitely a skill set that most can't wrap their heads around. You just yell at your leg when it wants to stop. You tell it to pedal harder."
Jones was fitted with her first prosthetic when she was 6 months old. Skiing was her first love and she won a gold medal in the slalom at the 2006 Winter Paralympics in Turin, Italy. She fell in love with cycling in 1998 when her mother took her to the Para-Cycling World Championships at the 7-Eleven Velodrome in Colorado Springs.
Jones works at Titan Robotics in Colorado Springs where her boss, Clay Guillory, allows her to build her specialty parts, light and streamlined. "It's an awesome job," she says. "I've built the new strut at work. My boss knows what the goal is. I'm not goofing off. There is a bigger picture to this whole process."
And she has helped her Paralympic teammates build equipment unique to their special needs.
It seems Jay Jones' passion for helping others has been passed on to his daughter Allison, and to Team USA.