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Episode 5: Just Say Yes – Talking with Paralympian Cyclist Billy Lister

Billy Lister is a Paralympic cyclist who most recently represented Team USA in the Rio Olympics, competing in both track and road events. 18 years ago, Billy was diagnosed with a rare and acute brain abnormality which resulted in a loss of mobility due to a stroke.

With 6 million stroke survivors living in the U.S., Billy hopes his aspirations will lend them hope and courage. He has pledged to train for the next three Paralympics in the years 2020, 2024, and 2028.

In this episode, Erik, Jeff, and Dave traveled to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to catch up with Billy between his training sessions and talk about his No Barriers journey. Billy describes being sidelined from his track in life of finding a job in finance and living a “normal” life to discovering his condition, having a new, experimental brain surgery and his road to not just rehabilitation but a successful career path as a Paralympic athlete.

Billy explains the difficulty he had with acknowledging his disability and the lengths he went to hide it from himself and the world.

“To have that physical ability and capacity, that excellence that I had, just completely taken away from me . . . that was really difficult and very hard to cope with.”

His disability led to loneliness, isolation, and relying on vices.

Billy Lister with a dog“I was living in this negative fantasy world. It was not my life and not something I was happy with, not something I wanted and I was going to push it into the corner and not talk about it as much as humanly possible until it got better — which was never going to happen.”

Then, Billy found himself at a No Barriers Summit and discovered he was not alone. He met others like him; met role models who inspired him. He decided to take on the challenge of re-learning how to ride a bike and that began an unexpected path to becoming a professional athlete and Paralympian.

“Learning how to ride a bike, which is literally one of the greatest, most liberating experiences you have as an individual — I got to do that twice!”

During the conversation, Billy offers advice for those who were in his same position and struggling with accepting their disability. He provides a window into the tools and mindset he employs to train at the level he does and to not just live with a disability, but to ultimately, even be grateful for his condition.

“Just say yes. When you’re in those dark moments of your life, those doldrums, those valleys, it’s so easy to say no and to take the already beaten path . . . but saying yes . . . that’s the hard part and it just gets easier after that.”

Connect with Billy on Instagram & Twitter: @BillyListerIII

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————————— EPISODE TRANSCRIPT —————————–

Billy: The fascinating thing about the Olympic and Paralympic dream is you can dedicate your entire life for four years, every single minute of every single day, and then you have one chance to prove yourself.

Erik: It’s easier to talk about our triumphs, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I’m an adventurer. I climbed Mount Everest, and the Seven Summits, the tallest peak in every continent. And, I happen to be blind. This is the No Barriers Podcast.

Dave: On today’s show, we meet Billy Lister, a 2016 Paralympic cyclist, who was diagnosed with a rare and acute brain abnormality which resulted in a loss of mobility due to stroke. 17 years later, after dedicated training, Billy represented Team USA in the Rio Olympics, competing in both track and road events. With six million stroke survivors living in the United States, Billy hopes his aspirations will lend them hope and courage. He has pledged to train for the next three Olympics in the years 2020, 2024, and 2028.

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