Ashli Molinero is a handcycling athlete.

More than 20,000 athletes will take their marks on Liberty Avenue for the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon. But not all of them are running.

Ashli Molinero, director, UPMC Disabilities Resource Center is a seasoned handcyclist. She will tackle the 26.2-mile course on wheels for the sixth time.

Encouraged by Rory Cooper, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and UPMC’s Michael Boninger, MD, Ashli started handcycling. She ventured into the world of recreational handcycling as a way to increase her activity level.

Born with spina bifida, Ashli said handcycling allows her to stay active and leave her mark on an up-and-coming sport.

“I love the speed, love the challenge, love the network of other handcyclists across the country,” she said.

Meet Ashli Molinero

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The Grueling World of Elite Handcycling

After a decade of handcycling in her spare time, Ashli started to compete in races.

A handcycle is a three-wheel vehicle powered by the rider’s arms. Racing wheels — designed for speed — come in all types of shapes and sizes.

Few women compete in handcycling at the national level — a fact that didn’t deter Ashli.

“I recognized that I had competitive speeds,” Ashli said. “And there weren’t many other women who were doing this nationally.”

After wrapping up her first race, she took on marathons in:

  • New York
  • Boston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami

Her greatest challenge awaited off the mainland — the Alaska Challenge.

The Alaska Challenge is the longest handcycle race in the world. It stretches more than 250 miles — from Fairbanks to Anchorage — over the course of five days.

The race ends in a 17-mile, 4,000-foot ascent to the finish line.

Handcycling in the Pittsburgh Marathon

A native of Pittsburgh’s South Hills, Ashli said the Pittsburgh Marathon has special meaning to her. She said the view of Pittsburgh’s distinct neighborhoods and cityscapes are what makes the marathon one of the city’s greatest events.

Handcyclists from across the country gather for the race, forming a sense of community within the sport.

“It’s amazing watching the Pittsburgh handcycle field continue to grow,” Ashli said.

Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle

As an employee of UPMC, Ashli makes it her mission to urge others to live a healthy, active life.

To prep for the marathon, she rides many times each week, honing her sport on the city’s steep hills. She also works with a personal trainer.

Ashli wants to raise awareness for the health and wellness of people with disabilities. She hopes others will follow her lead by finding ways to “get out there and get active.”

About Sports Medicine

Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.