By Kristian Rasmussen
A valley man has proved that you don’t need to put your fingers on the handlebars or your feet on the pedals to become an Olympian when you have determination, passion, and a little help from your friends.
Jaye Milley is a road cyclist and Windermere resident who will be representing Canada at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London. Jaye is a quadruple amputee who was born without fully developed hands and feet, a fact that has never slowed him down.
“When I found out I was going to the Games I just yelled and cheered,” Jaye said. “It was 9 a.m. and I think I woke my mom up. It was a massive release of emotion because I have been training eight years for this.”
The 21-year-old athlete, who has been named ‘The Iceman’ for his calm approach to competition, has already mapped out a strategy to stay cool at this year’s event. He will rely on his experience competing in hundreds of races, and training six days a week, to pedal away race anxiety, he said.
“It is the Olympics, but at the same time it is just another race. This is totally going to be my course because it is very technical and it is hilly, which are features that I put on my resume.”
The para-athlete has not had to pedal alone on his road to glory. He draws his strength from his friends, family, and the mountains that surround his Windermere home, he said.
While completing one of his many training rides around the valley, Jaye found himself with technical problems affecting his bike. He phoned his mother, Shelli Milley, who picked him up and brought Jaye and his ride to Bicycle Works in Invermere. He started speaking with shop owner, Byron Grey, which led to a sponsorship deal through the shop.
“I am really excited to support somebody who is such an athlete,” Byron said. “Just to even know a person like this and to work with him is inspiring because of the attitude and energy that comes out of him.”
The young athlete received a pair of new race wheels for the July Para-cycling nationals through his sponsorship with Bicycle Works, which gained him second place in the event and helped him secure a spot for the 2012 Games.
Just one week later, Jaye clocked the best time at the 2012 UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup Finals during the men’s race, pedalling the 25.9-kilometre course in 30:14.88.
Jaye’s passion for athletics has always been a constant in his life even before his Paralympic dreams. He played division II soccer with able-bodied players up until age 14 with the Blizzard soccer club in Calgary, where he grew up. The constant pounding and wear-and-tear on Jaye’s knees forced him to quit competitive soccer and look for another sport.
He began his search with his parents, Tom and Shelli, for a new outlet for his athletic energy. In eight years Jaye has progressed from being unable to ride a two-wheeled bicycle to pedaling for podium position.
“I was 14 when I really began trying to ride a two-wheeled bike,” he said. “I had been trying and trying and I just couldn’t do it, so we got this thing that we called ‘the tank.’
The tank was a tricycle with a “granny grocery-getter thing in the back,” Jaye said. The family got into contact with Steven Burke, head coach of the Canadian Paralympic National Cycle Team. The coach took an immediate interest in the passionate young athlete and immediately started planning his future.
“He [Steven Burke] looked at me and said, ‘You can ride a two-wheeled bike. Not only that, you are going to race them.’”
Jaye soon upgraded from riding, ‘The Tank,’ and began the slow evolution towards the completely unique road bicycle that he now rides.
His Cannondale race machine looks like a typical road bike on the surface, but is in fact designed specifically for Jaye. The racer has a prosthetic for his left arm that attaches from the end of his stump to the bike handlebar, specifically designed at a length to keep him stable. All of the shifting on his bike is done with his right prosthetic arm because he has more fingers and grip on that side, he said. His prosthetic legs have cleats bolted onto the bottom of them, which directly attach to his pedals.
What makes Jaye’s bike completely unique is a custom designed, ‘bum brake’ that extends in a tee from the back of his seat. When he wants to brake Jaye leans back on his seat onto the tee extension and is able to apply perfectly tuned brake pressure to his front and back wheels.
Jaye had to work his way into the spotlight before building his dream machine.
“In my last year of high school, about halfway through, I decided that I wanted to make the national team,” Jaye said. “I trained every single day, put in the time and I made it that year at the beginning of the season.”
Jaye would go to his first World Paralympic Cycling Championship, which happened to be on Canadian turf for the first time.
“It was an amazing experience because it was the first time ever in Canada for the championships and I was going for the first time.”
Jaye’s high after making the national team ended in a shattering low later that year. He went on to compete in the para-cycling track championships and later in the para-cycling road championship. While in between competitions his father, Tom Milley, passed away from an unexpected heart attack.
“I continued to train right through and I dedicated World’s to him,” he said. “That was the first time I won a bronze medal at World Championships on the track. It was very interesting because it felt as though he was there watching.”
The young athlete wants to continue to dedicate his hard work to the ones whom he loves most, he said.
“I wouldn’t be where I am without my mom and without the support of my brother and sister and my dad. If I win this medal will be for them.”
Jaye’s mother and biggest supporter, Shelli Milley, is overjoyed with her son’s quest for gold.
“If his dad were here to see this he would be so proud of him,” she said. “We are all so proud of him because he has worked so hard for this.”
For more information about Jaye’s Paralympic bid, supporters can find him on Facebook by searching ‘Jaye Milley’.