If you don’t me, I am a category one road cyclist and, since 2013, a paracyclist. I found out about paracycling from my friend Tim, owner of TopView Sports and the man behind FloridaCycling.com, when I was working bike registration for him in Florida. He had the women’s 2012 Olympic road race streaming at a race we were at. “You know, you could be there one day,” he said to me. I gave him a quizzical look, “Are you forgetting I have one leg that’s usually just along for the ride?!” He laughed and went on to tell me about paracycling. I went home intrigued.
The 2012 season was basically over for the para side of things, but there was going to be a race in April of 2013 in Greenville, South Carolina. My dad wasn’t too keen on the idea, thinking it was more of a limiter to say I was para and not push my self to be competitive with “able body” cyclists. (He changed his mind after seeing photos of other paracyclists and attempting to ride his bike with just one leg; he came home with a newfound respect and admiration.) I still wanted to try my hand at paracycling though.
So I finished the 2012 race season, trained in the off season and went up to Greenville with my mom. It was my first trip of a lifetime. We went a few days early, my mom refusing to let me drive any of the nine hours to get there. I pre-rode the course with my mom acting as my follow car. My mom came with me to my classification, where I waited outside for them to make a decision thinking this trip was a waste and I wasn’t going to get any classification, only to be told I was a C5. We went and checked out the shops and restaurants downtown. My mom took photos to document the racing, while I finished second in the time trial and won my category in the road race. I came home happy to have gotten to have the experience with my mom and excited about the possible new experiences paracycling would bring.
A month later I went to my first talent ID camp at the United States Olympic Committee training center in Colorado Springs, CO. After that I got an invitation to race for Team USA in Spain, where I won a bronze medal in the road race after flatting during the time trial. It was in Spain when I knew I wanted to be immersed in paracycling and take it as far as I could.
I came home and immediately got to work planning my trip to Wisconsin for nationals, where the team roster for the third world cup in Matane, Canada and the 2013 Paracycling Road World Championships in Baie-Comeau, Canada, would be made based off the time trial. Not only would I make the team roster and win my first Paracycling National Championship title in the crit, I would meet my husband Andrew. After a team prep camp and a week in California, I went off to the world cup and championships to place second in the world cup time trial, first in the world cup road race and third in the worlds time trial.
Paracycling also presented a new opportunity for me – racing on the track/velodrome. After being home for about three days, I went back out to California to spend time with Andrew, and got invited to a track camp in November. Going first to the San Diego Velodrome made track racing seem not so bad, with lower embankments, but that quickly changed when we made our way to the LA Velodrome and it’s 47°, two-story-high embankments. Getting to ride with Sarah Hammer and being taken through the turns all the way at the top rail following behind the motor was a thrilling way to start though. I took what I learned in that week to my first Paracycling Track National Championships, where I placed third in the 3K pursuit and 500 meters. It was a good welcoming to the track and a great end to the 2013 race season.
Needless to say, it was a whirlwind 2013 filled with excitement and unexpectedness. Excitement and unexpectedness that would carry into 2014, where I became a resident at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs. It was sad to move so far from my family and the friends I had made in the three years I had been cycling in Florida, but how could you pass up getting to live at the Olympic Training Center?! It was bittersweet packing up my room, sorting my worldly possessions into piles of throw away, donate, box up to get later, and items to cram into a duffel bag without going over the 50-pound checked-bag limit. My thoughts ranged from “oh, wow, I’m really doing this” to “what an honor” to “did I pack all my socks”? After packing up, I made a pit-stop in California for our national team camp, and then made my way to the OTC.
Turns out cold weather and my joints don’t get along. And it was cold in Colorado Springs. Even though I was bundled, every time I went out for a ride in weather below 40 degrees my knee and ankle would hurt. And I would get sick. Add on missing Andrew and my family, and you get miserable. I tried to make it work, making friends and using the world cups, racing in California and going to nationals to get a break from the weather, but the OTC life was just not for me. I left in August, two weeks before heading to team prep camp for the 2014 Paracycling Road World Championships, moving to California and to Andrew. We spent two solid weeks training before I left for Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina for our prep camp leading up to the championships that would be held in Greenville, South Carolina.
The trip to South Carolina would end up being the most significant for me. After a rocky year, I would go on to a bronze medal in the time trial. When I finished the time trial I thought I hadn’t been fast enough, that I had gotten fourth. Then I saw Andrew running towards me. I stopped, thinking something was wrong. “You got third! You got third!” he cheered as he hugged me. I immediately burst into tears of happiness. It wasn’t the easiest of years, dealing with my unhappiness in Colorado, a concussion and sprained right ankle after a bike crash in March, disappointment in not winning at nationals, and struggling with my first cycling coach that didn’t really get me. But I had turned it into a success; I had gotten a podium finish. And Andrew was there to see it happen, to be a part of it. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Three days later, the trip would get better with Andrew’s marriage proposal. I wasn’t going home just a bronze medalist; I was going home a fiancée too.
Newly engaged, I went back to Florida after worlds for a month, where I started planning a wedding and going back to school through DeVry University. I made my way back to California in time for the holidays, and Andrew and I began 2015 by moving into our first place together.
As the months went on, it looked like 2015 was going to be an even better year than 2014. Andrew and I picked our wedding date, I helped a teammate win a world champion jersey in the scratch race at the 2015 Paracycling Track World Championships, I won both selection races to solidify my spot on the Team USA rosters for world cups and the 2015 ParaPan Am Games, I was national time trial and road race champion, I got to be interviewed by Team USA and Chattanooga News Channel 3, the fact that I had achieved my childhood dream of getting to travel the world to race my bike finally set in, and I even had gotten to visit with my family in Florida. I was on cloud nine.
Then I got hit by a car. After coming home from Nationals, and a week before I was supposed to leave for the first two world cups, Andrew and I went climbing on our bikes and were on our way to a quick stop for lunch before heading home. We were stopped at a red light, with cars to our left waiting to turn northbound. The light changed green, the first car in the left-turn lane cleared the intersection and we started to go as the other cars started moving forward. Then, suddenly, I heard horns, screeching tires and Andrew yelling. My peripheral had been blocked by the cars; all I saw was a silver hood making contact with the front of my bike. “Oh, this isn’t good,” I thought as the hood hit my left side and I ricocheted and twisted in the air to land on my left side more than five feet in front of the car. Andrew, who typically went behind me in this intersection, hit the passenger door with his bike, threw it to ground and ran over to the driver’s side to make sure the driver didn’t run me over. Thankfully, other people stopped and helped us. We filed a police report, and a friend of ours gave us a ride home. Being in pain, I ultimately went to urgent care, where I was cleared. But something was wrong; I didn’t feel right. And why was ear still ringing days after the accident?
So instead jetting off to Italy, I went down to San Diego for a more thorough examination by USOC doctors. I was diagnosed with a concussion worse than my first in 2014, a sternoclavicular sprain, a ringing ear, painful ribs, a twisted spine in my neck. I was told I am to dangerous to be outside on my bike and that I needed vestibular rehab. I went home to bed overly tired, upset and dreaming of Italian espresso.
I spent the next month on the trainer – and watching my brother be drafted by the Baltimore Orioles straight out of high school – before finally being cleared to ride outside. I put three solid weeks into training and then headed off to Switzerland for the 2015 Paracycling Road World Championships and the 2015 ParaPan Am Games in Toronto. Turns out three weeks may not have been enough time to podium at worlds, but it helped me muster up enough to win the road race (I cried happy tears then too) and a silver medial in the 3K pursuit at the ParaPan Am Games!
The experience of the ParaPan Am Games, although, was enough to pick my spirits back up; 2015 wasn’t, by any means, a bust when it came to my race season.
2015 ended on another high too – I got married to my best friend.
We spent 12 days on our honeymoon in Hawaii before turning the focus back to bikes and attempting to punch my ticket to my first Paralympic Games. December of 2015 flew by, just as the first of half of 2016. I got a new cycling coach in January. In March, I went to the 2016 Paracycling Track World Championships in Montichiari, Italy, where I placed fifth in the 3K pursuit with a PR time of 3:55.309. In April, I guest-rode for The Happy Tooth Pro Women’s Cycling team at Redlands Bicycle Classic. In May I struggled with a bad week on the bike at Tour of the Gila, and then went on to become the Paracycling National Champion in the road race, time trial and crit.
And just like that July, and the Paralympic Trials, was here. The moment we’d all been waiting; what the blood, sweat and tears of the last three years came down to. Be sure to read about it here!