Beaverton man served as Marine, now races on 3 wheels for Team USA
Beaverton’s Dennis Connors has climbed over many obstacles in life, from his time with the U.S. Marine Corps. to competing with Team USA as a para-cyclist.
“I was essentially a pro climber,” Connors said. “All of my friends were pro rock climbers and they stuck with it and I was like, ‘I’m gonna go in the Marines.’”
The California-grown Connors entered the service 20 years ago as a linguist.
“I worked counter-narcotics, so I went to South America and then the Iraq War happened and in 2007 I got sent there.”
Connors eventually did three tours of duty in the Middle East, and what he saw, felt and lived is forever.
“Honestly, I didn’t know I was injured until 2018. I was having a bunch of balance problems and finally was able to go to the doctor outside of the V.A. and they did some brain scans and they’re like, ‘you have traumatic brain injuries. Plural.’”
Soldiers are warriors and they’re so often wounded in so many ways.
“I had to go back through and think of all of the times I got blown up or whatever, concussion, hand-to-hand combat, whatever it was, where you just got your bell rung.”
It was dozens of times, Connors figures.
The 37-year-old married father of two is now a stay-at-home dad after moving to Oregon in 2015.
“Now that we all kind of understand what traumatic brain injury is, because we didn’t at the time, you just toughed it out because if you were like, ‘I’m injured’ then your career was over.’”
The path to his new career has been a painful journey.
“I’ve suffered from PTSD for a long time and went through a lot of therapy for that and then in 2020, May of 2020, I had a stroke.”
Connors now gets around on crutches due to paralysis on his left side and the hits keep on coming.
“In the last month, I have been going through a diagnosis of young-onset Parkinson’s disease.”
Connors’ escape is in the garage to train on his bike for his third season of racing a trike for the United States para-cycling team.
“Once I got on the trike, it was life changing and I am like, ‘ok, this is it.’”
Third at worlds from Portugal in 2021 and the highest male scorer for the red, white and blue in 2022.
“Typically in a race, there will be between 20 and 30 people all on trikes, all with balance issues, trikes are kind of tippy, it gets pretty fun out there.”
An uplift in life for good man who sure deserves it.
“Even though I have all of these disabilities, it’s given me a strong sense of community and it’s given me a sense of like, ‘I can overcome whatever I put my mind to no matter what.’”
Connors is currently in Italy for a pair of world cup races and the para-cycling ‘Tour of Flanders.’ He’ll then be in Salt Lake City for the para-rock climbing world cup. He’s already a national champ.
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