Taneytown man wins gold for Special Olympics U.S. team

Taneytown man wins gold for Special Olympics U.S. team
Tracy Lea, right, adjust her son Syd Lea's Special Olympics medals at their home in Taneytown. Syd has attended numerous World Games, and put his experience to great use by winning three individual gold medals for Team USA, the most by a single competitor from Maryland, at the recent games in Greece. (Staff Photo by Jen Rynda, Patuxent Publishing)

From Syd Lea's home in Taneytown, the Pennsylvania line is less than two miles away.

When the accomplished cyclist ventures outside from his home gymnasium, he often crosses the Mason-Dixon Line as part of his training regimen.


That's not the only boundary that he has crossed during his cycling career.

The 26-year old from northwestern Carroll County has traversed the world several times on the way to becoming the premier cyclist among American Special Olympians.

Lea was a top winner for Team USA in the recent Special Olympics World Summer Games in Athens, Greece, earning three of the team's 10 gold medals in the international competition.

"I am so proud to have represented Team USA, but especially my home state of Maryland," Lea said.

Indeed, Lea was the state's most successful athlete in the international competition, which brought together more than 7,500 athletes from 185 countries in the birthplace of the modernOlympic Games.

He ranks second in the world among intellectually disabled cyclists, and, in Greece, he was one of 315 athletes representing the United States.

He finished first in the 15-kilometer (23:25.79), 25-kilometer (40:32.34), and the grueling 40-kilometer (59:30.34) road races.

After riding the equivalent of 53 miles in three days, Lea had raised his Olympic medal total to 11 in four trips to the Special Olympics World Games. Seven of those medals are gold.

Lea said he firmly believes in the Special Olympics motto: "If I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt."

But he nevertheless possesses an unquenchable desire to finish first.

"I like to attack the race," said Lea, who has earned the nickname "The Bus" for his relentless style. "I work so hard to get out front and stay there."

Family of Olympians

He is also the most successful Olympic athlete in his fa "I am so proud to have represented Team USA, but especially my home state of Maryland," Lea said.

mily, quite a feat considering what his relatives have accomplished.


His father, Rob Lea, was a rower for the U.S. Olympic Team in the 1964 Tokyo Games. Syd's older brother Bobby, now 27 and living near Allentown, Pa., was a member of the Olympic cycling team in 2008 at theBeijingOlympic Games.

His second cousin, Charlie Kellogg, represented his country as a cross country skier at the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France.

Cycling is a family tradition, but for Lea it's also a labor of love.

Brothers Bobby and Syd began their cycling careers at the side of their active parents. Syd was just 3 when he traveled with his parents and brother to Austria for cycling's World Masters Championships.

The family has made the trek to the eastern European country 33 times since their maiden voyage in 1977.

"From the time I was little, I wanted to race," said Lea, who graduated from Francis Scott Key High School in 2004 and Carroll Springs School two years later. "It all started with my parents in Austria."

In 2009, Lea was honored as the first-ever "Athlete Without Limits," a designation awarded by an organization of the same name that's part of the International Federation for Athletes with Intellectual Disability.

In addition to events for special athletes, Lea has competed in mainstream cycling events as well, including two first-place finishes in the Mid-Atlantic Bicycle Racing Association 2009 fall series. He's a member of Team Fuji, a racing group associated with the bike manufacturer.

He also has embraced the Olympic spirit off the track — he served as a speed skating official at World Games in Nagano, Japan (2005), and Boise, Idaho (2009).

Lea has turned heads in the international cycling community, and also recently caught the attention of one of the world's most talented musicians.

At the opening ceremonies of the Athens Games, the legendary Stevie Wonder acknowledged Syd's presence.

"Stevie was talking about having honored guests and elite athletes from around the world," recalled his mother, Tracy, who is the coordinator of cycling events for Maryland Special Olympics.

"Syd's name was one of the ones he mentioned," she said. "That was a pretty big honor for him, since there were over 7,000 athletes there."

Lea didn't know Stevie Wonder had mentioned his name until his mother told him.

He was too focused on his race.

Beyond the bike chain

While cycling is Syd's main focus, he takes pride in his other sports accomplishments.

A cross-country runner at Francis Scott Key who has also competed in triathlons, he is not confining his athletic goals to cycling.

He's a current member of the national rowing team for athletes with intellectual disabilities, and has set his sights on making the American rowing squad for the 2016 Paralympics, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

That goal seems in reach for Lea — who won national indoor rowing championships in 2009 and 2010.

But the water will have to wait for now, as Lea starts pounding the pavement yet again.

In addition to a full-time job on the groundskeeping crew at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg — where he commutes the 15 miles by bicycle, of course — he's training for October's World Championships for intellectually disabled athletes in Genoa, Italy.

There, he'll again face most of the world's top cyclists.

"I'll have to work even harder," said Lea, whose regimen includes four-hour training rides.

"He's done a lot for inclusion in the sport of cycling," said Tracy Lea.

"He's raced against cadets from West Point and beaten them, and that's pretty good," she said.

"It brings about a mutual respect."