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The Lincoln Hall Project « College of Liberal Arts & Sciences « University of Illinois

Lincoln Hall Project


Adam Bleakney (BA ’00, English; MA ’02, journalism) and Josh George (BS ’07, journalism) discuss Illinois’ world-renowned tradition of wheelchair racing and innovative coaching.

Adam Bleakney: I’m Adam Bleakney, and I’m the head coach of the University of Illinois wheelchair track team. We do have a long tradition of success, and my immediate connection to that is with Marty, Marty Morse, who was my coach as an undergraduate and graduate student, and my goal always has been to emulate what he did when he was here as a coach, and to carry on the tradition of not only success, but developing and shaping human beings. That was his philosophy.

Another thing that I carry on from Marty’s tradition, and that is, you know, constantly being on the leading edge of research and development and innovation. And that’s one of my favorite parts of the job, is being able to be creative, and so we’ve done a lot of cool things that aren’t being done anywhere else in the world.

One of the things that we’re working on now is taking cycling technology. In indoor cycling they have, they use indoor trainers, which have load generators attached to them. What I’ve done is I’ve pulled some of that technology and married it to our technology, for our indoor training. So that’s one thing we’re currently doing.

We also did a collaborative study with the Department of Aeronautical Engineering a few years back, and we did wind tunnel testing with our racing chair. And we were able to tap into some PhD students who created an organization here on campus. We spent two years, and we did a lot of great research on aerodynamic configurations of a racing chair. In fact, we designed a fairing* system based specifically on the data that we yielded from this research, and it just made the athletes more aerodynamic, and they could go faster more efficiently. So that was really cool to see something that we’d developed and were able to use in a race with quantifiable results.

Josh George: My name is Josh George. I’m a University of Illinois alum and a member of the U.S. Paralympic wheelchair racing team. I am living and training here because I have the privilege of working with one of the best coaches in the world, Adam Bleakney, who is the head coach of the U of I wheelchair racing team.

Racing was completely different when I got to school. It was actually the first time that I had a real coach in racing, and it was really obvious in my performances. I made some huge jumps between when I started school here and even two years later when I actually made my first Paralympic team in wheelchair racing.

I went to the Athens Paralympic Games. And it was just a whirlwind experience because I went from thinking I was a long shot to making the team, to then making the team and talking about our goals for the Paralympics. You know, my original goal was to try to make the finals in each one of the events that I was racing, and I showed up at my first race, which was the 400 meters, and I actually broke the Paralympic record and won my heat, in the very first, my very first Paralympic race ever, which was completely unexpected and just completely exciting. The record didn’t last long, it lasted until the heat that went after me, but who cares? It was a great way to start the Games, and I ended up winning a bronze medal there.

It was just amazing because each step of the way, thanks to the coaching and guidance that I’d received at U of I, I had exceeded my goals.

The team has grown exponentially since I was a student here, and that’s a large part thanks to the efforts of Adam. He’s worked really hard to develop a program that really supports its athletes and trains his athletes in a manner to allow them to be successful. The past couple of Paralympic Games, U of I athletes have pulled a lot of medals, and I think we won over half the medals that the U.S. team won in 2008, and we might have won about half the medals that the U.S. team won in the 2012 Paralympics as well, all came from U of I.

*Fairing is “a structure whose primary function is to produce a smooth outline and to reduce drag (as on an airplane).” (Merriam-Webster)


(Length: 4:10)