Paralympic Gold & A Return to Cascade
The blog streak continues! We’re finally at the biggies….the four top highlights of my athletic career. What could possibly be better than winning Paralympic gold medals?! Guess you’ll have to read on and then stay tuned for the final installment of the countdown because highlight number four is……
#4 Winning two gold medals at the Athens Paralympic Games
When Mary Lou Retton vaulted her way onto my breakfast table, I got it in my head that I wanted to win a gold medal. It took me 20 years, but here you go, this is the moment:
It’s a dramatic story involving Canadians, one I pretty much always tell when I speak in front of audiences….mostly because the video I have of the race finale is so short – maybe 10 seconds – that I have to set it up or your neighbor will bump your shoulder and you’ll turn to give them a look, and miss the critical moment!
The room always bursts into applause, and really, it’s quite fun. Hooray USA!
#3 Surviving the 2012 Cascade Classic criterium
For the first year and a half of my “professional” cycling career I professed to be “not a crit racer.” (Remember my first trip to Cascade?) I was strong enough over a long hard effort, but the sprinting and cornering were just not my thing, I wasn’t strong enough, I wasn’t talented enough at bike handling to deal with the turns at such high speed. I told many, many, many people this.
To anyone associated in any way to Shimano, I re-counted the Aspen Stage Race (one of the other obvious highlights of my career which should have ended up as an item on this list), saying that I had finished 5th – 5th!! – in the uphill time trial, held my position in the hilly, punchy circuit race, and got pummeled instantly on the turn in the crit that was a long, fast downhill into a tight left-hand turn that went instantly and steeply uphill….no matter what I tried, I was in the wrong gear and falling out the back end of the field, and as a result, wasting precious energy chasing back on just in time to do it again. If I had electronic shifting, it would be a game-changer. This is what I said.
But I didn’t really believe it. I figured there was no way I’d ever be able to put out the kind of power the bigger riders could coming out of each turn in a criterium.
Eventually, I got through to the right person at Shimano, and his marketing assistant told him to answer my 7th plea for electronic shifting with “sure, here’s free di2.” It arrived just in time for the start of the 2012 season.
Then a season of injuries and illness kept me out of all the major crit races….until Cascade. I was having a very, very good race. I’d finished the prologue around 45th. (Much higher than the 95th place I’d finished the year before.) I’d stuck with the big guns until the final 5km on the first stage with the two major climbs, which catapulted me even higher on the GC, and I more or less held that position for the next couple stages.
Before the criterium, I was feeling dejected and scared. I couldn’t hang with the pro crit riders, and I didn’t want to get caught in a crash with the Paralympic Games five and a half weeks away. My teammate and superstar crit racer, Nicky Wangsgard told me, “Kelly, you just have to get out of the saddle, every single corner. It’s the only way. You know what, that’s your only job today.”
Between Nicky’s direction and the electronic shifting – I was always in exactly the gear I wanted thanks to the sprinter buttons I’d mounted under the left shift lever – it was honest-to-goodness the easiest criterium of my life. I finished with the main field and didn’t have to take a prorated time, which more or less preserved my position in the GC.
It was meaningless technically, to our team, especially since floating off the back of the field trying to stay safe I’d done nothing to help anyone else. But my personal success was the one bright spot in our post-race meeting. And I nearly started crying saying thanks to Nicky and then everyone else seemed to brighten up. I still can’t believe what a difference a year, some good advice, and the right equipment made.
So….at that point, at the finish of the most empowering finish of my cycling career, I knew….I had one last day of racing to get through intact, and then, after a half week at home, I would be off to the final track camp before the Paralympic Games.
Except that this is the image I have to commemorate my final day of racing before the Paralympic Games and the year when I was a few dozen miles from finishing in the top 20 of possibly the most elite women’s stage race in the US: