Richland cyclist to compete in Greece

RICHLAND -- When Mark O'Brien of Richland first learned to ride a bike, he was about 7 years old.

The childhood rite didn't come easily at first, but it also didn't take him long to master the two-wheeler.

Today, there are few sports the 45-year-old Special Olympian hasn't conquered, from snow skiing to cross country. But cycling is his favorite.

For the past 18 years, he has competed in numerous regional, state and national biking events and always has come away with a medal, said O'Brien's coach Gerry McHenry.

O'Brien's next great adventure in cycling will be at the Special Olympics World Games in Greece later this month.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

And how is he preparing for the event?

"Practice, practice, practice," O'Brien said with lively smirk.

He rides every Wednesday and Saturday, leaving from Columbia Park in Kennewick.

On Wednesday, he starts from the parking lot at Edison Street and treks the full length of the park, about a 10-mile round trip.

On Saturday, he leaves from the same parking lot and makes a 23-mile round trip to the Espresso World coffee house in Richland and back.

"It's a piece of cake to make that ride (to Richland)," he said.

O'Brien is one of two Washingtonians who will represent the United States in Greece. The other athlete is from Seattle.

World Special Olympics, founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation, was formed to improve the lives of the intellectually disabled.

It started with 1,000 athletes from 26 states and Canada and has grown into a movement that includes more than 1.7 million athletes worldwide from 150 countries.

"There is very little Mark can't do once he puts his mind to it," McHenry said. "In all the years I've coached him, he always comes home with a medal."

O'Brien, who says he has a learning disability, is confident he will do well in Greece. He will be competing in the 5k and 25k events.

"Mark just loves to ride," O'Brien's dad said. "I remember when he competed the first time in a race from Seattle to Spokane several years ago. He was so hyped up for the race he rode five miles ahead of the other riders most of the way."

Nelson and Roseanne O'Brien plan to accompany their son to Greece. Mark's bike will be broken down and crated up for the almost 7,000-mile trek to the country where the Olympics started.

The family is set to leave the Tri-Cities on June 17 and returns in early July.

"I wouldn't miss this for anything," Nelson said.

* Dori O'Neal: 509-582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com