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For Northeast Passage Cyclists, No Hill Is Too High - Three Notch Century Raises Money; Awareness

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For Northeast Passage Cyclists, No Hill Is Too High - Three Notch Century Raises Money; Awareness

Even if you’re struggling to ride a bicycle over one of the highest mountain passes in New Hampshire, it’s impossible to moan and groan about it when an athlete like Marlon Shepard passes you smiling, offering encouragement—and making it all look so easy.

Shepard, who lost the use of his legs in a fall, uses a hand-cranked bicycle to conquer miles and mountainous roads at a pace that would put most able-bodied cyclists to shame.

“Why do I do this? It’s fun!” says Shepard, having just crossed the top of Pinkham Notch, which, at 2,000 feet above sea level, is one of the highest public roads in New Hampshire.

“It’s only been four short years since my injury and, honestly, I didn’t see myself biking this many miles any time soon,” says Shepard, a UNH senior from North Yarmouth, Maine. “It’s only possible because I was able to hook up with Northeast Passage. They have all the equipment. They have all the knowledge and training expertise. And they’ve taken me from a kid who broke his back to someone who’s trying to be an elite athlete and compete in the Paralympics, hopefully, in 2014 as a Nordic skier.”

Shepard was one of more than 200 cyclists of all abilities, about 40 of them disabled, who tackled the Three Notch Century this weekend. Now in its eighth year, the 100-mile ride in the White Mountains is a fundraiser for Northeast Passage, a program of the UNH College of Health and Human Services that develops and delivers innovative ways for people with disabilities to enjoy barrier-free recreation.

This year’s ride was re-rerouted because Hurricane Irene washed out the usual route. The alternative was every bit as challenging and scenic, starting in North Conway and tackling Bear Notch, Pinkham Notch, and Evans Notch. Participants could cover the route in one, two, or three days.

“It’s a great event for a great cause,” says Peter Weiler, president of the UNH Foundation, who completed the 100-mile ride in one day. “I’ve heard so much about the ride, the scenery, and all the people who come out to participate and to support it that I really wanted to come out and experience it for myself.”

This year’s ride concluded on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, making it particularly poignant for disabled veterans. Among the veterans participating were a group of eight amputees from Great Britain and several from the Warfighters Sports group of Disabled Sports USA.

“When these wounded veterans come out of the hospital and they’ve come from a military background where they’ve been so active, they want to know that life isn’t over,” says Brendan West, a British army veteran who lost a leg. “So, we try to challenge them immediately with things to do like this. It gives them a new lease on life.”

Dan Sousa, of Greenfield, N.H., originally contacted Northeast Passage several years ago to find out about renting recreation equipment after he lost a leg in a 1984 accident. Today, he participates with the group year-round, and this was his second Three Notch Century.

“I’ve done a lot with Northeast Passage,” Sousa says. “They’ve been great, and they helped get us into tennis, sled hockey, water skiing, and Nordic skiing. And today, look at this—it’s a fun time out there, and a great group ride with people you know. And it keeps getting bigger. I hope it keeps growing.”

Keely Ames, who organizes the ride and other events for Northeast Passage, was particularly relieved that the event came off this year after Hurricane Irene closed roads on the traditional route through Crawford Notch and over the Kancamagus Highway. The alternative route was mapped out by Phil Gravink, father of Northeast Passage founder and Director Jill Gravink.

“We never thought of canceling it,” Ames says. “With all the athletes who made plans to come here, including the soldiers from Great Britain, and with everyone who worked so hard to raise money, we started working on an alternative the day after Irene was over.”