Enjoying this article?
Subscribe to receive occasional emails from ClickTM on product updates and industry innovations:
Share this artice:
After years of battling with debilitating illnesses, Sydney Marshburn had no option but to amputate her left leg above the knee just last summer in August of 2021. On the road to recovery, Sydney won an entry for the SBT GRVL race from Click Medical and quickly set out on a training regimen to get mobile and back on a bike.
Fast forward to RACE DAY!
“On the day of the race, I had one objective: to finish all 37 miles,” says Sydney.
Sydney persevered through the rugged terrain, fit problems due her naturally shrinking residual limb and a huge lightning storm, all with a huge smile on her face. As she rolled across the finish line, she’d attracted an entourage of fans and new friends who were rooting for her success.
She not only inspired the Click team, but hundreds of others that participated in SBT GRVL that day.
We have only told a smig of Sydney’s story…so, we encourage you to keep reading below.
ENJOY, we hope you love getting to know Sydney as much as we have!
Sydney Marshburn: The “Gravel” Road to Recovery
When I lost my left leg above the knee on August 25th, 2021, I was unsure of what my future held.
I had been in survivor mode for years, dealing with multiple life-threatening conditions. Before my illnesses became debilitating, I was a competitive swimmer from the age of nine to my senior year of high school; my schedule did not leave time for land-based sports. However, since losing my leg, my priorities have shifted from being in survival mode 24/7 to taking advantage of every opportunity I possibly can, even if they are outside my comfort zone. This includes trying out different land-based sports. When I saw that Click Medical, the company behind the adjustable technology in my prosthetic socket, known as RevoFit, was offering a bike entry to SBT GRVL, I jumped at the chance to sign up. I have never had much luck in raffles, so I was speechless when I learned I was the winner of the cycling entry. I immediately called my parents to tell them the news. They were surprised; I had not owned a bicycle since I was twelve.
The process of acquiring a gravel bike was more complicated than I anticipated. I had only been walking for a few short weeks. I was still learning to trust my new prosthesis. I knew I needed to start training immediately, even without a bicycle. I started my cycling journey on an upright stationary bike. While training on the stationary bike, my microprocessor knee kept hitting the back of my prosthesis every time I pedaled due to my socket’s offset. Another obstacle I faced was losing suction when I sat down on a bike saddle. This complication caused my socket to fall off mid-ride. My prosthetic team recommended a recumbent trike and possibly completing the race with only one leg. So that’s what I did. In late May, I purchased my recumbent trike and started preparing differently for the race.
With my recumbent trike, I practiced with one leg. Along the way, I met people who were part of a local recumbent cycling group; we rode across our city’s greenway trails. When I was not adventuring with the recumbent riders, I was training with my fiancé. Together, we explored hidden neighborhoods in our community. I tried my best to stick to the training plan provided by SBT GRVL. During this time, Tennessee was experiencing severe heat waves. I wanted to ensure I was prepared for any weather, so I often trained in the heat.
Training for a race in the Rocky Mountains was challenging; I live in a city that is almost entirely flat. I tried to add as many hills as possible to my race preparation. Cycling with one leg started wearing out my remaining knee. As someone with a connective tissue disorder (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome), I am prone to injury. Because of my one-legged training regimen, my knee took the brunt of the impact and became injured. An MRI showed that my muscles had degeneration and extreme ligamentous laxity. I started wearing Kinesiology (KT) Tape when I rode my trike. I was determined to compete.
Almost two weeks before the race, my prosthetic team, Bulow Orthotic & Prosthetic Solutions in Murfreesboro, TN found a donated mechanical knee/foot setup for the race. Having a second leg would take much of the stress off my remaining knee. Because I was still struggling with losing suction due to my residual limb shrinking, the prosthetic lab manager restitched and recreated an auxiliary belt for my left residual limb. He also added Velcro to make it easier for me to adjust during the race. With those problems addressed, I was ready to head to Colorado!
My mother flew into Tennessee, and together we drove to Colorado for the event. We arrived three days before the race to get acclimated to the altitude of the mountains. During this time, we met the Click Medical team, made some new friends, explored the area and took in the picturesque views that Steamboat Springs had to offer.
As is usual for recent amputees, my residual limb was in the process of shrinking. My prosthetic leg had become too large. This caused my skin to bleed from being rubbed raw by my prosthesis and liner. Through pain and prosthetic issues, I’m proud of myself for persevering and showing up to the race.
On the day of the race, I had one objective: to finish all 37 miles. To do this, I planned on starting the race with Paige Boucher, the PR representative for Click Medical. She affectionately took on the role of my “course mom.” Paige dedicated herself to the mission of helping me cross the finish line. We rode together for the duration of the day.
During our ride, she stayed with me and pointed out the names of landmarks we passed. The ride was like a guided tour. Her fascinating stories were a great distraction from my pain and the race – I learned so much about her, cycling, Steamboat Springs history, and the region’s beautiful landscapes!
Throughout the race, I decided to channel the titular character from the popular children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could.” I found myself repeating the phrase, “I think I can,” to which Paige would respond, “I know you can.” After conquering the first 12 miles, Paige and I made it to the course’s first aid station. My mom was waiting for me with teary eyes and a big hug. One of SBT GRVL’s members of the media asked to interview me while spectators and racers cheered me on. The enthusiastic atmosphere was enough to excite me for the next part of our ride.
About halfway to the second aid station, my prosthetic leg started slipping off and the pain in my injured knee increased. I was running out of horsepower to propel myself up the hills. We ultimately switched from riding to hiking up the steepest sections. Walking on my prosthetic was beginning to cause problems as well. Paige came up with the idea of changing bikes on our climbs; I would use her upright bike for support, and she would push my shorter trike up the hills. A few thousand riders passed us, many of whom yelled words of encouragement to me. Their support helped me look past the pain and keep pressing on.
Two-thirds of the way through the ride, my prosthetic issues caused walking up hills to no longer be an option. My mother had followed us in our rental minivan and pulled over to help. Paige suggested I continue to ride and pedal while my mom pushed my trike from behind on the steep hills. This new adjustment worked to offset the lack of grip my residual limb had on my slipping prosthetic leg. At the following aid station, Paige asked for assistance. Kevin, an aid station volunteer, offered to push me up the hills. When I was not in need of help, he would jump into my mom’s car and they would follow me. My mom and Kevin took turns assisting me with the hills. My favorite part of the entire race was the rocky downhill section known as Cow Creek. I have always loved adrenaline rushes, so when I had the chance to tackle Cow Creek’s rugged terrain, I went as fast as I possibly could. My body even went airborne a few times!
Ten miles from the finish line, my support team from Click Medical started riding next to us. That is when we all got caught in a massive thunderstorm. As someone with lots of metal in my body and a metal prosthetic knee, I used the storm’s lightning as motivation to get to the finish line faster. As the city of Steamboat Springs came into view, our support team started to separate from the racecourse. Paige and I rode across the finish line with huge grins. I finished just in time for my prosthetic leg to fall off. Beaming joyfully, I processed everything that transpired throughout the day and cried happy tears.
The aftermath of the race brought a wave of overwhelming emotions. I was proud to be part of the 30+ para-athletes in SBT GRVL’s first-ever Paracycling category. Together, we showed the world that disabled people can accomplish amazing feats. I started this journey with the goal of attempting something out of my comfort zone. Before SBT GRVL, I never imagined becoming a part of the cycling world. However, I also did not anticipate the amount of support and encouragement from everyone involved with SBT GRVL. I had never felt so welcomed and included by a group of people. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait to come back in the following years!
Curious if RevoFit adjustability is a good fit for you.