Bio: Ray Lewandowski
Born July 27th 1952 to Ray & Mary Lewandowski in Rochester, New York. I was immediately put into the New York State department of Adoption due to my parents inability to care for me. At this time, my disability was not apparent, and at 8 weeks old was sent to the foster home of Thomas & June Wombwell, 399 South Drive, Greece, New York on the shores of Lake Ontario.
I remained in this foster home my entire childhood. Approximately at age 8 months, it was discovered I was not crawling. It was determined by State physicians I had a uncommon disability that I lacked muscle growth of my lower limbs. I did have full feeling and movement, but my lower leg muscles did not, and could not develop to support me.
I was then put under the care of the notable Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Goldstein of the University of Rochester, where I underwent 14 major orthopedic operations in my 1st 14 years of life. During this time I missed a tremendous amount of school (Hilton Central school District), and had to try to “catch-up” every year, which being in full body casts I was unable to attend school, and do to foster care did not have the benefit of “tutoring”. You can only imagine the stress this put on me at a very early age.
I did enjoy my childhood utilizing leg braces and crutches, I did not use a wheelchair until I was an a teenager, and entered into wheelchair racing and swimming.
In my 7th grade my foster mother recognized I was being promoted into the 8th grade (Jr. High School) even though I had below acceptable grades. She conferenced with the Hilton School District and was told I would receive a letter of “Attendance” as they give the mentally retarded.
She was furious! She contacted the State officials, and I was bussed 45 miles each way into the city where I started and graduated from Jefferson High School, Rochester, New York. I graduated in June 1971.
It is during this time at “Jeff” I was introduced to wheelchair sports. It was soon discovered that I was a “superb athlete” in which I trained under Rodger Bunce, P.I. Director at “Jeff”.
It must be noted this was due to my very active lifestyle at home. I was swimming in the waters around my home at age 5, and had my 1st sailboat at age 7. In my early teen years, I discovered a way to ride a typical 2-wheel bicycle. I sat “side-saddle” using a “banana” seat that was popular in the late 60’s, and by placing my right arm across the handlebars, with my left, I would reach the left pedal and propel myself. Granted..I crashed quite a few times, and if it was not for my brave and patient foster mother, I am sure I would have been made to stop.
I did however gain proficiency in this, and grew VERY strong during my early, middle and late teens..as you can imagine.
My foster father Thomas Wombwell, was a kind and humble man. He worked for Eastman Kodak Company for 42 years as a Maintenance man. We did not have a lot of money, but what we did have was quality and hard earned. I learned my work ethic from my father. He was also a talented artist and carpenter. He alone built our 27 room house while working 10 hour days. He was not an emotional man and we did not have an emotional relationship.
My mother on the other hand was a typical German housewife. My 2 siblings were my brother Tom 10 years my senior, and my sister Bonnie my 5 years senior.
My athletic “career” started as I said at “Jeff”. My father would drive into the city twice a week for practice. In the winter it was swim practice, in the early spring and summer it was track. At this time I was introduced to the other Rochester Wheels Team. This included the famous JoAnn Keyser, Julius DuVall and Kathy Melnick. Over the years we became very close, and travelled and competed regional, nationally and inter-nationally. And in the summer of 1968 while competing in the Nationals in New York City, I was picked for the U.S. Olympic Team. The head coach had told my father it was due to my “spirit” he saw when finishing the last lap of the mile competition. And this was my 1st National competition! That summer I went to Vienna, Austria, and Stoke Mandville, England. I competed in swimming (50 Free and Back) and track (100 meter, and mile). I won the mile (Gold medal) in Vienna, and Silver for the 50 freestyle in England. Not bad for my 1st time competing. I was 16 years old at that time.
Over the years I competed every year until the Toronto Olympics in 1976. I set record after record in the 60 and 100 yard dash. I pulled gold from the pool in the 50 free and backstroke. At one point of my life while in my home in Pultneyville New York, I had a “Medal Cabinet” that displayed all my medals and trophies I had collected throughout my athletic “career”. Unfortunately, after moving to California in 1986, and many moves after that, I have lost them all. They are as follows to the best of my recollection;
1968: Vienna, Austria: Gold: Mile Silver: Stoke Mandville England
1969: Silver: Nationals, NYC 100 yard Gold: Slalom Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: 50 meter freestyle, Gold: Slalom Stoke Mandeville, England
1970: Gold: 60 & 100 meter dash, Gold: 50 meter freestyle Nationals, NYC, Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: 50 meter freestyle, Gold: 60 meter relay, Gold: 50 meter swim relay, Stoke Mandeville, England
1971: Gold: 60 & 100 meter dash, Gold slalom, Gold: mile Silver 50 meter freestyle, Nationals Washington State. Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold Slalom, Gold, 60 meter relay Gold: 50 meter freestyle, Montego Bay, Jamaica
1972: Gold: 60 & 100 meter dash, Gold Slalom, Gold: Mile Silver 50 freestyle, Silver 50 backstroke Nationals, NYC. Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: Slalom, Gold: 60 meter relay, Gold: 50 freestyle, Heidelberg, Germany
1973: Gold: 60 & 100 yard dash, Gold: Slalom, Gold: mile Nationals, NTC. Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: 60 meter relay Gold: mile, Gold: slalom Stoke Mandville, England.
1974: Gold: 60 & 100 yard dash Gold: mile Silver: Slalom Silver 50 frestyle Silver 50 backstroke Nationals, NTC. Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: 60 meter relay Gold: slalom, Gold: mile Stoke Mandville, England
1975 Gold: 60 & 100 meter dash Gold: mile Gold: slalom Silver 50 freestyle Nationals, NYC. Gold: 100 meter dash, Gold: mile Gold: 60 meter relay Silver 50 freestyle, Silver: 50 backstroke
1976: Gold: 100 yard dash, Silver: mile Gold: freestyle silver: 100 meter dash (Please keep in mind, this is the year David Kylie from CA used a chair with 20 inch handrims on a 24 inch wheel, instead of the standard handrims for a 24 inch wheel that at that time EQUIPMENT STANDARD. I beat David in New York at the Nationals, but that smaller handrim which is “gearing”, gave him the advantage.. the CHAIR..NOT the ATHLETE that 10 meter edge over the standard wheel). I was disappointed that the Olymipic Committee allowed this chair with non-standard equipment to race..let alone claim the Gold. However..being a U.S. Team Member, I kept quiet. After Toronto, David spent a week at my home. David Kylie is a great athlete, I respect and consider him a friend, but he never again raced.
1977: I “licked my wounds”
1978: Gold: and a NEW record for the 100 yard dash 16.9 seconds! Nationals, NYC. After the race, Sy Bloom, Head Coach of the U.S. Team asked me to return to represent the U.S. He stated and I quote “Ray..these kids can’t win using these smaller rims..we need you to pull the Gold from the track as you always do”. I told Sy, who I have known ALL my racing with the U.S. Team I could not support the team using non-standard equipment of their chairs. I STILL believe that. It is not the ATHLETE against ATHLETE anylonger, but EQUIPMENT v.s EQUIPMENT!! As an example, years later when I completed in both the L.A. and Boston Marathons, I had QUADS…QUADS!! ..passing me! A QUAD pushing a chair at least 15 MPH!! HOW? EQUPMENT!
a side note: I rode motorcycles, ATC’s
(I owned a Harley Sportster, and a Honda 250R 3-wheel ATC) and at present own
“RAYVIN” my 38 foot sloop, whom Peggy I sail every weekend docked a few blocks
from my home in Channel Islands Harbor.
I have had 25 sailboats over the years, and competed in the
Scotch Bonnet Race (Crossing Lake Ontario and back to Rochester) using my J-24 racing sloop. That is my true love (apart or course from my wife!!)..sailing. I have been doing it for over 55 years now, and will continue until I am no longer able to.
Personal: I am lucky to have married Peggy my wife, and we have a 2 year old Cocker Spaniel named Lily. Professionally I am a CMM Programmer, and have worked in the aerospace industry many, many years. I will send you my resume upon request. Peggy, Lily and I live on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in a quiet beautiful area a stones throw from the harbor. Photos at your request.
Ray Lewandowski May 30, 2015