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Handcyclist eyes world distance record in a 24-hour period

ANDREW GOLDSTEIN, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH — A long, daunting flight of stairs leads to the front door of Attila Domos’ house on Ludwick Street in Squirrel Hill, so he usually elects to use an alleyway to the back of the house.

Even going that way, he has to ascend a set of four steps and then eight more, but it’s a challenge he accepts on a regular basis.

In this Aug. 11, 2016 photo, Attila Domos, a competitive handcyclist, trains at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park in Pittsburgh. Haley Nelson/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

And he has a method.

“That’s actually why I have the rope on my wheelchair,” he said. “I climb out, and I pull the chair up after me.”

It’s part of the daily grind for the former handcycling division champion of the Pittsburgh Marathon who is often seen zipping along the streets and around the hills of Pittsburgh. And it’s nothing compared to the challenge he’s going after next: the 24-hour distance record for a hand-cranked cycle.

In this Aug. 11, 2016 photo, Attila Domos, a competitive handcyclist, trains at the Bud Harris Cycling Track in Highland Park in Pittsburgh. Haley Nelson/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“I happened to come across the world record for the longest 24-hour ride, which from what I could find was 403.8 miles in 24 hours,” Domos said recently. “And as much as I ride and as much as I love to handcycle, I totally feel like I can beat that record. I know I can, I just know I can beat it.”

Domos will take his first full 24-hour test run beginning at noon Saturday at the Bud Harris Cycling Track on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park. The track is sloped, he said, making it much more difficult to ride on than the flat track in Sebring, Fla., where Thomas Lange of Germany set the mark of 403.8 miles in 2009, according to Guinness World Records.

It’s all good for Domos, who says he looks forward to making the conditions as difficult as possible for himself now so it will be even easier for him when he attempts to break the record officially, likely in Sebring in February.

Friends and neighbors recognize Domos for that competitive yet positive attitude, but it wasn’t always easy after he lost the use of his legs in a fall at age 25.

On Sept. 22, 1993, he was hanging out at the Squirrel Hill Theater on Forward Avenue, waiting for his younger brother, Csaba, who was working there at the time, to finish cleaning the building. He decided to take a look around and climbed a ladder to search behind a screen for old movie posters.

When he found nothing behind the screen but some broken light bulbs, he began descending the ladder while holding onto a rope. The rope snapped and he fell, paralyzing him from the waist down.

“That was a life-changer,” he said.

Domos, now 48, has faced numerous health complications and issues since his fall, including an infection that kept him bedridden for 3½ years. But he made the most of that time, writing a book, learning digital photography and making short videos and films.

A musician from a young age, he continues to write and play music. He originally planned to coordinate the release of his new CD, “Never Enough,” with his record test-run in lieu of a traditional release party, but he decided to make the CD available a few weeks earlier.

And nothing has stopped Domos, an avid athlete before his accident, from competing — even without the use of his legs.

He’s one of only two people who have used a hand-cranked cycle to participate in the Dirty Dozen race, in which bicyclists attempt to ride up the 12 steepest streets in the city, according to race creator Danny Chew.

“Only the second one to try it,” said Chew, adding that Domos has made it up eight of the 12. “But obviously he would like to eventually be able to do all the hills.”

The longest Domos said he has ridden at one time was 10 or 11 hours, although that wasn’t exactly nonstop — he had to pull over to fill up on water and to relieve himself. For his test run, however, he’ll have a support team keeping him hydrated and nourished and a catheter installed to allow him to keep moving.

In recent weeks, Domos began training with a new handcycle made of aluminum with carbon fiber rims that’s 10 pounds lighter than the one he had been using. It also lies flatter so there’s less wind-resistance. He has dubbed the new cycle “Beast.”

“I certainly gave the new bike the proper name,” he said in a text message earlier this month after a day of training. “It really IS a beast.”

More confident than ever that he could break the record in Pittsburgh — even if it’s unofficial — he will have some extra motivation on Saturday because he’s raising money for charity.

He’ll be riding for the San Diego-based Challenge Athletes Foundation, which got him his first handcycle, and Pittsburgh SteelWheelers, which has previously paid his way into the Pittsburgh Marathon. He’s asking for a donation of 10 cents per mile, or through the purchase of a customized T-shirt or hoodie. Information can be found at https://?www.booster.com/?attilas-broken-handcycle, or on his website, attiladomos.com.

Motivation won’t be in question for Domos on Saturday. The only question is whether he’ll actually be able to break the record, whether it’s unofficially in Pittsburgh or for real in Florida.

“I don’t know anyone with a better attitude than Attila,” said Alan Orlansky, a member of Domos’ support team. “Based on his feeling, he feels he can do it, and I believe him.”