My name is Billy Lister. When I was 15 years old I was diagnosed with a rare and acute brain abnormality known as an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). To address this life threatening malformation, I underwent invasive brain surgery. Although the surgery was a success in eliminating the AVM, I started experiencing swelling on my brain, which led to a rapid loss of function on the left side of my body.
After daily hours of intensive physical and occupational rehab the gains that I was making were strong and markedly optimistic for a full recovery. Then, in June of 1999, I suffered a stroke. Unfortunately, this event caused me to lose my ability to perform even the simplest of tasks such as typing on a keyboard, brushing my teeth and even walking. Due to the potential dangers of having additional surgeries performed, I was advised to allow my condition to take its course in order for the doctors to fully understand the extent of my impairment. For four weeks, I experienced slow and regressive paralysis, which led to permanent paralysis on the left side of my body.
Prior to going through all of this I had been an athlete my whole life, playing everything that I could find the time for. So when sports were slowly taken away from me, it was a tremendous burden to cope with. For many years I was coasting through life, going through the motions as a kid learning how to survive with a disability. And in that is a monumental point – I was only surviving life, I wasn’t living it.
There are certain junctures in life that shape the individual you become and the path that you take. My stroke was obviously an added set back to my AVM, but both ultimately altered my future and presented challenges that I would face for the rest of my life. Other moments point you in a direction to where you belong in this world. One such instance occurred in August of 2011, when I attended a Paratriathlon camp for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and got on a bike for the first time since my stroke. After this event, I returned home to teach myself how to ride again.
The adage that says you learn from every fall is a pure understatement when it came to my progression as a cyclist. However, it didn’t take long to realize that I had the potential to re-learn every aspect of the sport. In November 2013, just two short years after pedaling in a parking lot like a five-year-old, I fully dedicated my training to the sport of Paracycling. With the help of my Allard ToeOFF® brace as well as my completely modified bike, I am now continuing to experience an abundance of highlights and growth trajectory potential.
From a daily perspective, the only adaptive aid that I use is the Allard ToeOff brace for walking, the rest I just kind of figure out on my own. Ever since I was 17 years old, after suffering from a stroke, I have been wearing an Allard ToeOFF. Throughout the years I’d attempted many varieties of walking assistance, but I would continuously revert back to Allard. In fact, I was wearing my ToeOFF when I scored my first soccer goal while in the very midst of dealing with my rare and regressive stroke. I was wearing this when I crossed the finish line at my first triathlon. I remember my Dad using superglue to adhere the original ToeOFFs at the base of the strut, as I endlessly tested their limits and was learning to use the body I’d be destined to live in. Allard and my ToeOFF braces have been the one constant in my life, and has brought me from a young boy whose life got turned inside out to the Cycling Champion I am today.
This year is also the brightest year yet as I join TeamUp and set my sights on competing in the Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro.