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There are basically two constants in David Abramo's life: pain and optimism.

And for the Healdsburg personal trainer, one thing eases the former and reinforces the latter — getting out on the road on his bicycle.

Abramo, 43, who was born with a type of cerebral palsy that affects his legs, back and hips, wants to show the world what he can do on his bike. He hopes he'll get the chance at the next Paralympic Games to be held in September 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

But he is asking for help to get there, becoming a pitchman, fundraiser, planner and trainer with the goal of representing the U.S. in para-cycling at the world's largest international competition for people with disabilities.

And while it's more than two years away, Abramo says he has had to gear up quickly.

For one, he has to raise funds for a new custom-built bike, which is expected to cost $18,000. For another, qualifying races have already begun for the 2016 Paralympics.

In early July, the 2014 USA Cycling Amateur & Para Road Nationals will be staged in Madison, Wis., and Abramo, who is registered for the Road Race and Time Trial events, has to get both himself and his new bike to the meet.

The road to Rio begins now.

"I'm putting everything into this," he said. "I haven't even thought about failure. Not too much, anyway."

That might as well be Abramo's personal motto. Smart and self-effacing with an easy charm, Abramo has spent the past few months knocking on doors, asking for donations from friends and strangers in person and online, and recruiting sponsorships.

His efforts are paying off — he's raised more than $13,000 and secured a corporate sponsor, and after a fundraiser Saturday, he hopes to have enough to fly up to Seattle for the first fitting on his new bike.

"I've never been more excited and more terrified in my life," he said. "It's all starting to feel real."

When he arrives at Davidson Bicycles, the company that agreed to design and build his custom bike, it will be the first time in his life he has ridden an upright bicycle. His will have two rear wheels and a movable top bar.

Until he committed to trying out for the Paralympics, Abramo's cycling was limited to a recumbent bike, a type of bicycle that's low to the ground and allows the rider to pedal from a reclining seated position.

It was, he thought, the only kind of bike he could ride, owing to his condition — he can't lift his leg high enough to clear the top bar of a traditional upright bike.

On the recumbent bike, he embraced the sport and routinely rides more than 100 miles a week, participating in dozens of organized rides all over the West Coast.

"I really like the competition. It was another way I could challenge myself," he said. "Cycling has been a great thing for me. I've met so many wonderful people, and I just love riding.

"It's the mobility I never had. There's nothing like being out on the road in your bike. It's the one time I feel like I don't have a disability."

But even cycling presented a ceiling for Abramo. When he tried to register for the aqua/bike race two years ago at the Windsor-based Vineman, they told him he couldn't compete on his recumbent bike. Vineman is a race that's sanctioned by the Union Cycliste Internationale, the international governing body for cycling including para-cycling, and recumbent bicycles are not permitted in international competition.

"I basically showed up and they told me my bike didn't qualify," he said. "It was really disappointing."

Instead of shutting the door on Abramo's burgeoning racing career, it opened a new one. Impressed by Abramo's fitness and ability, organizers suggested he try to qualify for the 2012 Paralympics, only a few months away in London.

There wasn't enough time for Abramo to get everything in place, but the idea of competing in such a prestigious international race motivated him to think big.

Still, there was a lot of work to do.

"I can ride 100 miles no problem on my recumbent bike, but I can't walk more than a block without pain," he said. "I never in a million years thought I could ride an upright bike. I can't lift my leg over the bar, and there didn't seem a way around it."

But then he found out a custom bike could be made with a top bar that swings away so he can step into it instead of having to lift his leg up and over.

But the cost of such a bike was daunting — just the axle required for the back wheels cost $3,000 and had to be ordered specially from England.

He didn't have the bike or even a company to build it and not even close to enough money to pay for it. But Abramo pressed ahead anyway.

"I thought, 'Why not me?'" he said. "If I fail, at least I can say I tried. But if I didn't try, I would have wondered about it for the rest of my life."

Abramo was born with cerebral palsy, a disorder of the brain that inhibits the development of muscle tone. His type is called spastic diplegia, which primarily affects the lower body.

Although he says he was a happy kid growing up in Redwood City, he remembers wanting to do more than what adults allowed.

"I was excused from gym my whole life," he said. "But my mother never really protected me. She would worry, but she still wanted me to feel like I was just like other kids. She pushed me, and I'm glad she did."

What he wanted was to play sports, especially baseball. He said he had a great throwing arm as a kid, which he discovered in his only season in the Redwood City Little League, though his coaches were reluctant to let him play.

"I realized that team sports were not for me," he said. "I was never treated the same as the other kids, and I didn't get the same opportunities to show what I could do."

It took an adult to show Abramo what he could do, though — his fourth-grade teacher at Roy Cloud School suggested weightlifting.

"He told me if I wanted to do things, I should get stronger than the other kids," he said. "I embraced it."

Abramo committed himself to working out through his childhood and at Chico State University, where he pursued a degree in music technology.

But at 22, he was racking weights in the gym when he felt a sharp pain in his back, and he found himself on the floor unable to move. He later discovered he had herniated a disc in his back.

Back pain plagued him through his 20s and, as a result, he changed his career focus to massage and physical fitness. He became a personal trainer, helping other people get fit.

But six years ago, he stepped off a curb near his home in San Ramon and fell to the ground in agony. It was yet another back injury, this one the most serious.

He would be mostly immobile for six months, in terrible pain and unable to do even the most mundane tasks. After years of living on his own, he was forced to move in with his mother, a bookkeeper in Healdsburg.

But as with all his setbacks, Abramo found a silver lining. It was during one of his back injuries that a friend told him about recumbent bicycles.

In part to get over the end of a relationship, Abramo bought a bike sight unseen and started riding.

"It changed my life," said Abramo, who met his fiancee while cycling; they recently became engaged. "Whatever happens, I feel I've already won."

But, says Abramo, it won't stop him from doing even more.

"It's the biggest thing I've ever done," he says. "I had to go for it."

(You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin@pressdemocrat.com.)

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