To go up, you have to go down.
As runners trudge up, over and back on the William Powell Bridge along the Rickenbacker Causeway— that’s the really big bridge — Rebecca Manning urges her athletes on.
Kerry Gruson loves the phrase for its simplicity and how it applies to many life situations.
Gruson, a paraplegic, will remind herself of that mantra when she and Hector Picard, a double amputee, embark on a 100-mile bike ride on Wednesday morning from Marathon to Key West and back, to show people with disabilities how they can do whatever they set out to do.
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Picard, 51, who lost both of his arms in an electrical accident in 1992, has competed in more than 140 triathlons, using a specially modified bike that allows him to brake with his right knee and shift gears with his chin.
“That ‘I can’t?’ You have to get over it,” said the father of three, who lives in Fort Lauderdale but grew up in Miami (an American High graduate). “You’re seeing someone you would think would never be able to do things. People look at me and think, ‘That guy can’t do it.’”
In May, National Bike Month, Picard has ridden his bike through six states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida as part of his self-proclaimed Tour to Inspire. His message? Live the best life that you can. He’s particularly focused on disabled children.
The Key West leg is the finale of the 31-day mission.
In 2015, Picard met Gruson at the MultiRace Mack Cycle Tri-Miami Triathlon. Gruson, 69, as a young reporter in the 1970s, had accepted a freelance assignment from the Boston Globe to go to Vietnam to see what the war had done to the Southeast Asian nation. On her way, she stopped in Hawaii to interview a Vietnam vet who had been a Green Beret.
During the interview, the vet suffered a Post-Traumatic Stress episode and tried to strangle Gruson, a petite 26-year-old at the time. The incident left her paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, rendering her voice whisper-like.
Gruson persevered, becoming a journalist with The New York Times, working out of the Times’ Miami bureau until she retired in 2005. (Her father, Sydney Gruson, had been a top editor and executive with the Times; her mother, Flora Lewis, was a long-time foreign affairs columnist for the paper.)
Gruson retained her competitive spirit, first by sailing in regattas with Shake-A-Leg, the Coconut Grove nonprofit that teaches disabled people how to sail, then becoming involved in the Miami triathlon circuit.
When Picard met Gruson at the Mack Cycle Triathlon, he knew he wanted to ride with her.
“This woman is incredible. Most people can’t even picture a day in her shoes,’’ he said.
The two paired up in the Miami Marathon in January, with Picard running while pushing her in her “riding chair.” He attached a tube he designed as a modified handlebar onto her chair.
“We are changing attitudes about possibilities,’’ she posted on Facebook after the race.
When friends and strangers alike cheered them to the finish line, they knew they couldn’t stop there. Now, she’s helping Picard finish his 100-mile bike tour.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, the two will embark from Mile Marker 50 in Marathon, at Sombrero Beach Road and U.S. 1. They plan to arrive at Mile Marker 0 in Key West around noon.
Depending on how Gruson is doing with the wind and the heat — she will be accompanied by two caretakers — the two will ride back to Mile Marker 50 to complete the 100-mile trip around 7 p.m.
The trip is long. It’s hot. And it’s heavy — Kerry and her chair add 150 to 200 pounds to Picard’s load.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t faze Picard.
“For me, the way I approach disabilities is as an obstacle,’’ Picard said. “It makes it harder. It makes it difficult. But it also makes it more interesting. It makes every day incredible.’’