Alabama hosting first Paralympics Cycling qualifier since pandemic
Jennifer Schuble trained for the Paralympics Cycling Open 2021 in Huntsville this coming weekend last year.
The Homewood Paralympian gold medalist would normally have had multiple opportunities to qualify for the Tokyo Summer Paralympics over the past year, but then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Saturday and Sunday event at Cummings Research Park on April 17-18 is the return to racing for these physically challenged cyclists. The long hiatus makes the Toyota-sponsored Huntsville event an even more important section of qualifying as other international qualifiers have been canceled.
Schuble, 44, suffered a traumatic brain injury while a cadet at the United State Military Academy and later another in a car accident. She was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. In 2007 she became involved in rehabilitation with the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, where she was encouraged to devote herself to Paralympic cycling.
It would be an understatement to get involved. In 2008 she won a gold medal and set the world record in the 500 meter time trial at the Paralympic Games in Beijing, China. Since then, she has won three silver medals and one bronze at the 2012 and 2016 Paralympic Games.
After not seeing her in a year, Schuble can’t wait to welcome about 100 of her Paralympic friends and competitors to Alabama.
“This is the very first race that I have ever done with Team USA in my home state,” said Schuble. “I’m really excited to show all of Alabama’s weather, where to ride a bike all year round, and how great the area is to ride in.”
Although this is the first Paralympic competitive event since the pandemic, Schuble was barely stationary. Bicycling is inherently socially distant, so she could work the roads around Alabama to work on her endurance riding and do 60-70 mile trips on a regular basis.
These 60-70 mile training drives are a breeze compared to the Mt. Cheaha Challenge, where she rode 100 miles and made the grueling climb to Alabama’s highest peak.
You might think that driving competitively, especially internationally, is a bit of a miracle for someone with multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury, but Schuble said that their body’s hard work actually helps keep their MS in check.
“For me, the goal is to keep working on my balance and coordination and keep my health in check,” she said. “When I stop doing things, I start losing things.”
Many of the Paralympics athletes are wounded veterans, and their military training, Schuble said, enhances the strength required to participate in such a strenuous sport. As a West Point cadet, she prepared to make an extraordinary effort.
“When you are at the military academy, you have really reached your limit and you are getting an understanding of how to play with your mind to move forward,” she said.
These heroic Paralympians would love to see a crowd along the Cummings Research Park course as they attend various events over the coming weekend.
It’s free, and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Cummings Research Park encourage you to put up signs, wear patriotic colors, tag the chamber and research park, the U.S. Paralympic Cycling team on social media, and hashtags # Huntsville2021 and # to share paracycling.
In addition to home-state athlete Schuble, here are a few other notable Paralympians competing in Alabama:
(All photos by Casey B. Gibson / US Paralympics Cycling)
Oz Sanchez is one of the best handcyclists in the world and participates in time trial and road races. Sanchez is a three-time Paralympian (2008, 2012, 2016) and six-time Paralympic medalist (two gold medals, one silver medalist, three bronzes). While joining the Navy from the US Navy in 2001 to become a Navy SEAL, Sanchez was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured his spinal cord.
Ryan Boyle is a tricycle rider who competes in time trials and road races. Boyle competed in his first Paralympic Games in 2016, winning silver in the road time trial in Rio. In October 2003, Boyle suffered a traumatic brain injury while riding a ferris wheel, where he was hit by a pickup truck and pulled, immediately falling into a coma. Emergency brain surgery was done to save Boyle’s life, but he lost part of his brain.
Will Groulx is a six-time Paralympic medalist (two gold medals, two silver medals, two bronzes) and a four-time Paralympian while competing in wheelchair rugby (2004, 2008, 2012) and cycling (2016). Groulx served in the United States Navy from 1995 to 2001 before a motorcycle accident paralyzed him from the chest down.
Oksana Masters competes in three sports: biathlon, cross-country skiing and road cycling. She is a four-time Paralympian (2012, 2014, 2016, 2018) and eight-time Paralympic medalist (two gold, three silver and three bronze medalists). Masters was born in Ukraine. Both legs were damaged by radiation poisoning in the uterus from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident.
Want to go?
Due to strict COVID protocols, spectators are not allowed to spread out on the lawn outside Explorer Boulevard at the beginning or end of events at Columbia High School. But if you don’t want to be there before daylight, don’t try to take Bradford Drive off Research Park Boulevard, which will be closed. It is best to drive from Jan Davis Drive, Voyager Way, or Enterprise Way / Discovery Drive.
For a detailed list of the best parking spots and a full spectator guide, visit cummingsresearchpark.com/USParalympicsCycling/.
Shelly Haskins writes on points of pride nationwide. Email your suggestions to [email protected] or tweet them to @Shelly_Haskins with #AlabamaProud