World-championship para-cycling team gets kick-start from L-101

Paige Gray and Stephanie Zundel (tandem cycle on right) work their way up the pack at the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Milton, Ontario. Gray is a control room operator at Black Hills Power in Pueblo, Colorado, and L-101 sponsors the racing duo.

WHAT STARTED OUT as a conversation about expensive hobbies led to Local 101 (Denver) learning about some unsung “hometown heroes”—and quickly becoming fans and supporters.

On a Black Hills Power job with AZCO, Boilermaker superintendent Dave Uhl, was chatting during a break with control room operator Paige Gray about his hobby—hot rods. An expensive hobby, to be sure, and Gray said she could relate. Her hobby, piloting a tandem bicycle, isn’t cheap. A set of race wheels alone costs about $3,000. Plus, she told him, there’s travel, training, other gear and coaches.

Uhl learned that Gray pilots as part of a para-cycling tandem with blind cyclist Stephanie Zundel, the team’s “stoker.” Both are well-seasoned, competitive athletes. Zundel, blind since age three, was a marathoner and has two karate black belts. Gray was a power lifter and competitive elite individual cyclist. It was Gray’s lifting coach who approached her about being a pilot for a tandem para-cycling team.

“I was getting kind of bored with the single bike, and training by yourself is hard; so, I jumped at the opportunity,” Gray says. She was paired with Zundel, and the duo started training in August 2019. In December, they competed in the U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling Cup in Los Angeles, winning three golds and a silver—and qualifying for the UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships in Milton, Ontario.

But as they trained and set their sights on Canada, costs added up.

“The equipment is stupid expensive,” Gray says. “I have a good job at the power plant, but all of my disposable income goes into racing.”

In addition, while Gray was able to use her vacation time to cover time off to compete, Zundel, a school counselor, had to take unpaid leave—and still find a way to pay her rent in addition to racing and travel expenses.

Uhl knew he had to help. He and fellow Boilermaker at AZCO, steward Russ Salazar, together pitched in $200 from their pockets. But they knew they could do more, so they took Gray and Zundel’s story—and a letter from the athletes—to their brothers and sisters at L-101. The local voted and gave another $500.

“All the funds went to Stephanie,” Gray notes, since she had to forgo income to compete and had some additional transportation expenses.

In February 2020, Gray and Zundel finished third in the 200-meter match sprinting—earning the first ever medal for the United States at a world championship event—and eighth in the one-kilometer time trial. They are currently ranked seventh in the world for tandem para-cycling and are waiting to find out if they have qualified for the U.S. Paralympics team.

“We’re going to train like we’re going!” Gray says. “And if not, we have national championships in July.”

“They’re doing an exceptional job representing for the United States,” Salazar says. “With Stephanie having a disability and Paige helping out—it just shows a different side of people outside of work.”

He adds that Local 101 is a big fan club for Gray and Zundel.

“What they’re doing takes a whole different mindset. They’re pretty goal oriented, and it’s just an awesome thing.”