Aaron Trent's little sister learned to ride a bike without training wheels before he did.
She was 5 and proud. He was 6 and frustrated.
It didn't matter that one of Aaron's legs was much shorter than the other, that his left arm and hand were bent from a cerebral palsy-like condition, making it hard to grasp handlebars. He was determined.
And before long, he had managed to teach his body to balance on a bike without training wheels.
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Seventeen years later, "beating my sister no longer is the goal," Aaron said, smiling at his understatement.
Aaron, who earned one silver and one bronze medal at the 2009 Para-cycling Track World Championships this month, is aiming for the 2012 Paralympics in London. The 23-year-old Columbia resident took a break from classes at USC this school year to train at home and at the U.S. Paralympic team headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Much like that 6-year-old fixated on riding without training wheels, Aaron plans to put his entire focus on the 2012 event for the next two years.
"I want to do everything I can to ensure I'm as fast as I can be in London," Aaron said.
Peggy Trent, who home-schooled her son through high school, wholeheartedly approves of him putting college on hold to chase his dream. She used to work with a woman who gave up on an Olympic dream to move on with her life and later regretted it.
"You've got one shot at this, you need to go for it," Peggy Trent said. "You'll never know if you can do it if you don't try."
That attitude has been in place almost from the day 4-month-old Aaron suffered a severe allergic reaction to penicillin. The resulting stroke damaged the infant's brain, causing a condition similar to cerebral palsy.
The limbs on the left side of his body are smaller and malformed. For years, he wore out the top of his left shoe because he dragged that leg. His left hand was bent back toward his forearm, and his left elbow didn't flex properly. Surgery at age 12 straightened his wrist a bit and gave him more use of his left hand and arm.
The training wheels episode was typical of Aaron's childhood. He always overcame what others might have seen as limitations.
"When you can't hold Legos with your hand to build something, you hold them with your neck," Peggy Trent said. "He always found a way. Something as basic as buttoning buttons. He learned to do it with one hand. Try that sometime. I can't do it."
Aaron didn't play traditional team sports, but he learned to love alternative sports such as Ultimate Frisbee, downhill skateboarding and trail running.
"Everybody with a physical disability has experienced something that was hard to deal with," Aaron said. "You can either curl up into a ball and die or develop a mother of a sense of humor.
"If you're content to wallow, that just doesn't seem much fun to me."
Aaron didn't cycle competitively until some of his trail running buddies started training for triathlons. He quickly discovered he didn't like the swimming part of triathlons, but he thrived on a bike.
"And a few months later, I wasn't running anymore," Aaron said. "It was all cycling."
Shortly after getting serious about cycling, Aaron tried to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics. He fell short but came away determined to make it to the next Paralympics in 2012.
He won the 1K time trail and the 3K pursuit race at the national championships this year to earn a trip to Manchester, England, for the world championships.
He earned a silver medal in the 1K time trial and a bronze in the 4K pursuit in Manchester. In the time trial, he overcame falling off his bike during his start. Shaken and bruised by the fall, he was allowed to restart 15 minutes later, and his time was only three seconds away from earning a gold medal.
He competes in CP4, the classification for athletes with the least disabling cerebral palsy conditions. His bike has to be adapted for his shorter leg, and the brake levers are all on the right side. His body has had to adapt, too, using muscles differently on each side of the body.
A trim 5-foot-9 and 140 pounds, Aaron utilizes aerodynamics to make up for his lack of brute strength. "I do a lot with a little," he said.
Aaron thinks his success has more to do with hard work than athletic talent. His coach, University of Georgia exercise physiology graduate student Kyle Shipp, has been stunned by Aaron's work ethic.
"I have tried to find the limits of Aaron's tolerance for hard work several times, and I have failed," Shipp said.
Aaron's performance at the national and world championships this year showed another of his strengths.
"Many young cyclists have a problem with 'choking' on race day and underperform," Shipp said. "The pressure of representing the USA at the world championships in his first full season of competition brought out his best."
Standing on the podium at the world championships was life-changing. An economics major at USC, Aaron now is considering taking exercise science classes when he returns, with a coaching career possible.
He's not the bragging type, but he's comfortable in being a role model for youngsters with disabilities - or a high-performing lesson for people without disabilities.
A disability "is just the hand you've been dealt in life," Aaron said. "How you deal with it makes the difference."