Blind downhiller racer ready for Cougar Mountain Classic

Considering all that Bobby McMullen has been through, it’s reassuring to know he has a keen sense of...

Considering all that Bobby McMullen has been through, it’s reassuring to know he has a keen sense of humor.

McMullen, a self-described “train wreck,” has encountered just about every obstacle — from blindness to two kidney/pancreas transplants — but that hasn’t stopped him from fully enjoying life.

The Redding resident will take his zest for life to Infineon Raceway for the Infineon Technologies Cougar Mountain Classic, Sept. 9-11, competing in the Infineon Technologies Mountain Bike Downhill. His goal is to place in the top 10 and earn a berth in the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA) Championships the following weekend at Mammoth Mountain. It is the Super Bowl of downhill racing for McMullen.

That’s a tough goal for anyone to achieve, let alone McMullen. He is fully blind in his left eye and 80-percent blind in his right eye. When describing his right eye he says, “It’s like looking through a rolled up piece of paper with Vaseline smeared on the eye hole.”

McMullen, who is an avid skier, mountain biker and triathlete, has been legally blind since 1993 due to a degenerative eye disease. Moreover, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes — the most serious form of the disease — when he was 12 years old. He has also endured two kidney/pancreas transplants as a result of his diabetes.

To say his life has been a challenge would be an understatement.

“It was tough when I was told I wouldn’t see again,” said McMullen, a 42-year-old massage therapist whose dream of becoming a lawyer was cut short by his blindness. “I was pretty pissed off and disappointed and it was hard to swallow. When you look at it we are in a sight-oriented society and those of us who are visually impaired face a lot of obstacles.

“When I got the news I went home and my dad came out to meet me and I cried pretty hard right then. But then it was time to get on with my life.”

And he has certainly done that. He made the U.S. Disabled Ski Team and won the U.S. National Championships in both downhill and Super G in 1996. He also made the Nagano Paralympics in 1998 in Japan.

Ironically, he participated in the Paralympics at a disadvantage, having walked into a wall just two weeks prior. He broke the little toe on his right foot as a result of the mishap, but competed anyway. McMullen crashed in all four events he entered and damaged his toe so much it had to be removed.

His passion stems from his childhood where he was a standout athlete in Redding, earning varsity letters in three sports. He played football at Shasta Junior College before transferring to Weber State in Utah, where he was a walk-on for the Wildcats’ ski team. While at Weber State, he broke his femur in six places and shattered his hip during a high-speed ski crash.

“I was taught that if you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight times,” McMullen said. “I’ve taken everything that has been thrown my way and I will continue.”

His next goal is to reach the NORBA Nationals for downhill, and he has a good shot in Sonoma. McMullen placed 14th during an event in Sacramento and 15th in Temecula. At the prestigious Sea Otter Classic in Monterey earlier this year, McMullen was 15th in the downhill out of 28 competitors. He was just 30 seconds off the pace of the 10th-place finisher, which would have earned him an automatic berth to Mammoth Mountain.

“I was so close at Sea Otter, that’s what has me focused totally on Sonoma,” McMullen said. “I never thought it would be possible for someone like me to get to NORBA but it is possible. To reach NORBA in an able-bodied category would be incredible.”

McMullen races downhill by trailing his guide, who starts the trek down the hill in front of him and shouts instructions along the way. His guide is his girlfriend, Therese Connor, who has already qualified for NORBA in cross-country and downhill. It is an amazing sight to watch McMullen race down the hill, legally blind, with only his guide for instruction as he reaches speeds in excess of 30 mph.

“It is an unreal and intense experience for me” McMullen said of his downhill runs. “But I have a great communicator in Therese. She is the best I’ve ever had.”

For additional information on the Infineon Technologies Cougar Mountain Classic, visit www.cmclassic.com.

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