Oswego Paralympian arrives home to hero’s welcome
By Stephanie Lulay firstname.lastname@example.org September 10, 2012 6:48PM
Paralympic cycling champion Joe Berenyi of Oswego looks on as students from Oswego High School gather around him to get a glimpse of the three medals he won in London during a surprise homecoming celebration on Monday, September 10, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 10, 2012 9:05PM
OSWEGO — Paracyclist Joe Berenyi didn’t just win gold, silver and bronze medals at the Paralympic Games in London — he did it all with a broken jaw.
The 43-year-old Oswego resident arrived home at about 1 p.m. Monday to a surprise caravan of family, friends and fire trucks starting at the Home Depot store on Route 34.
Village President Brian LeClercq announced plans to run Oswego’s Paralympics hero through town, but Berenyi was hoping for a Guiness and a burger first.
“This is cutting into my Elmer’s time,” Berenyi said of the popular Montgomery-based bar, Elmer’s Dog House.
Friends shouted that they wanted to see Berenyi’s three medals.
“They said I couldn’t keep ‘em. I had to give ‘em back,” Berenyi joked. “You want to see ‘em?”
He pulled the medals from the front seat of the van he arrived in.
“They’re heavy, they hurt. They bounce against your ribs,” said Berenyi, who broke ribs while training a few months ago.
Berenyi, who lost an arm in a construction accident, took a gold medal in the 3-kilometer individual pursuit in London, a silver in the men’s individual time trial and a bronze in the track cycling mixed sprint competition as part of a three-member U.S. team.
With lights and sirens, the caravan escorted Berenyi to Oswego High School where students gave him high-fives and hugs. Holding signs that said “Welcome Home Joe — the Bearded Wonder”, the marching band played tunes and Berenyi let the students hold his gold medal.
From there, friends and family headed to Berenyi’s home, where miniature American flags lined the driveway. Berenyi’s sister, Auroran Lori Carpentier, made giant replicas of Berenyi’s medals out of painted pizza pans.
Standing in his driveway Monday, Berenyi said he hadn’t slept in 18 hours. After the Paralympic Closing Ceremonies in London Sunday, he hopped on a plane home.
The next few days will be busy, too. After Oswego repeats the welcome home Monday night for Berenyi’s wife and three daughters, he will join his Athletes By Design cycling club teammates for their weekly race in West Chicago. On Thursday, Berenyi will fly to Washington, D.C., where he will meet President Barack Obama Friday morning.
The whole Paralympics experience hasn’t sunk in yet, he said.
“I figure, I might as well go (meet the President). I don’t even have to pay for the airline ticket,” Berenyi said.
Cycling buddy Jim Cannella said despite Berenyi’s recent accomplishments, he’s still “an Average Joe.”
While Berenyi said winning the races was an accomplishment for himself, he’s proud to bring home the gold for his country.
His determination and “good guys I train with” kept Berenyi motivated during training.
“If it’s raining or snowing, if they’re going, I’m not staying at home,” he said.
Berenyi said he broke his jaw in a fall off his bike about a week before the Paralympics while training in Wales. And because he was about to compete, the jaw couldn’t be wired and he could only take Ibuprofen for pain.
“(The doctor) chopped the beard,” Berenyi said.
Berenyi lost his right arm and endured significant damage to his leg in a construction accident 18 years ago. He competes on a modified two-wheel racing bike.
Will he repeat at the Paralympic Games in four years?
“We’ll see,” he said after the fanfare ended. “Now I can take a nap.”