Harold Glissen has enjoyed success as a professional motocross racer, business owner and motivational speaker. However, growing up as a congenital transradial amputee, Glissen’s path to success was not without challenges.
“I was the different kid in school,” Glissen told O&P Business News. “I tried to play team sports in school, but I never really seemed to fit in.”
Glissen was especially discouraged by playing little league baseball. Although he wanted to pitch, Glissen’s coach wouldn’t allow it because he felt that Glissen would not have enough time to put his glove back on after delivering a pitch.
“And I can now understand his safety concerns, but I’ve always wondered how my coach felt when professional pitcher Jim Abbott pitched that no-hitter,” Glissen said.
Images: Kathleen Griffin
Ultimately, Glissen discovered motocross racing, and he knew that he was on the right road.
“I found my true passion, which was dirt bike racing and motocross,” Glissen said. “It was something that I could do on my own, and even though I had one hand, I was able to do it.”
Glissen’s motocross career almost ended before it began. When he was 15 years old, Glissen went to Englishtown Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. to race in his first competition. However, the race officials felt it would be unsafe to allow Glissen to enter the race. After pleading with the officials, they agreed to give Glissen a practice test to assess the safety of his riding.
“Fortunately, they let me go out on the track that day,” Glissen said. “I got to race, and I have become a permanent fixture on that track ever since.”
Since then, Glissen has achieved an accomplished racing career, gaining expert recognition in 1990 and a professional license in 1998.
“I have been living one of my true dreams as a child to become a professional motocross racer,” Glissen said. “And I am still the only person in the world with one hand to ever have a pro license in motocross and super cross.”
Since Glissen does not use a prosthetic arm, he made some modifications to his handlebars to better control the bike.
“When I first started racing, my bike was just like everyone else’s,” Glissen said. “I, being as stubborn as I am, was determined to ride my motocross bike just like everyone else.”
Once he started racing competitively, Glissen moved his handlebars higher up on the bike to give his body a better riding position.
“Three weeks later, I won my first amateur event,” Glissen said.
Currently, Glissen’s handlebars are uneven, with the left side higher than the right to accommodate his position better.
“We used risers and put the handlebars higher and back farther towards me, which put my body in an even better position,” Glissen said. “That design has been tweaked since the mid-1980s, but the basic principle is still the same. The handlebars are three inches higher on the left than they are on the right.”
Only One Inspiration
In addition to operating his own landscaping company, Glissen Landscaping, Glissen also runs a motivational speaking business.
“It is something that I started by accident,” Glissen said. “I knew someone who was a teacher’s aide, and she asked me if I would be interested in coming to the school to talk to the kids about overcoming adversity.”
Although he had never done anything like it before, Glissen went to speak with the students, and his talk was a huge success.
“The next thing I knew, I was invited back,” Glissen said. “And then other schools found out, and it began to grow.”
The namesake for Glissen’s business, Only One Inspiration, originated from a story from his youth.
“I was about 10 years old standing in the grocery line with my mom, and an adult behind me was staring at me as if I was an alien,” Glissen said. “And I remember turning and looking at that adult and saying, ‘Yep, only one.’”
Glissen travels mainly to schools and churches to discuss his experiences growing up with only one hand, overcoming adversity, bullying, difference awareness and setting and achieving goals.
“I always ask them, ‘Does everyone in here want to be the same?’ and everybody says, ‘No, nobody wants to be just like someone else,’” Glissen said. “And then I ask them, ‘Then why would you bully somebody for being different if you don’t want to be identical to everybody else?’
“And usually the room is silent,” Glissen added.
After he retires from racing motocross, Glissen hopes to grow his motivational speaking business and focus on mentoring other upper extremity amputees.
“It’s an absolutely incredible feeling that someone like myself that people may label as being born with a disability has been able to turn it into something positive for not only myself, but for other people,” Glissen said. “Only One has grown into something that I am truly proud of.”
Only One Inspiration sponsors other amputee motocross riders, and Glissen is looking forward to competing against some of them at the 2013 Extremity Games.
The Extremity Games is an annual extreme adaptive sports competition organized by the Athletes with Disabilities Network. It is held over the course of 2 weekends, and the first portion of the competition is the motocross race, which was held on May 25 at Baja Acres in Millington Michigan.
At last year’s event, Glissen was recovering from severe injuries sustained during a life-threatening motocross accident in January of 2012. The accident resulted in five broken ribs, a broken pelvis, sacrum and L5 vertebrae and a collapsed lung. Despite the severity of his injuries, Glissen was adamant about competing at the Extremity Games, in which he has competed for the past several years.
“A lot of people said that I shouldn’t do it, and maybe they were right,” Glissen said. “But I was determined to prove to myself that I could bounce back from an injury like that in such a short period of time.”
Glissen placed fifth overall and was the first competitor with an upper extremity amputation to finish.
“Motocross is a very physically demanding sport, and it comes with its dangers,” Glissen said. “I have been injured along the way, but any injury I’ve ever had, I’ve never allowed it to stop me from racing.”
This year, Glissen expects a competitive field of racers, but he is excited for the challenge.
“This year is going to be interesting, and I know we are going to have some new blood,” Glissen said. — by Megan Gilbride