Jennifer Schuble has been training for the past year for the 2021 Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville next weekend.
The gold medalist Paralympian from Homewood normally would have had multiple opportunities over the past year to qualify for the Summer Paralympics in Tokyo, but then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
So this event Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18, in Cummings Research Park is the return to competitive racing for these physically challenged cyclists. The long layoff also makes the Huntsville event, sponsored by Toyota, an even more important leg in the qualifying circuit as other international qualifiers have been canceled.
Schuble, now 44, suffered a traumatic brain injury while a cadet at the United State Military Academy and later suffered another in a car accident. On top of that, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. She got involved with Birmingham’s Lakeshore Foundation for rehabilitation in 2007, where she was encouraged to get into Paralympic cycling.
Getting into it would be an understatement. 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. She’s since won three silvers and a bronze in Paralympic Games in 2012 and 2016.
After a year of not seeing them, Schuble can’t wait to welcome about 100 of her Paralympian friends and fellow competitors to Alabama.
“This is the very first race I’ve ever done with Team USA that’s been in my home state,” said Schuble. “I’m really excited to show everybody Alabama’s weather, where you can ride your bike year-round, and just how great the area is to ride in.”
Even though this is the first competitive Paralympic event since the pandemic shut down such things, Schuble has hardly been stationary. Cycling is inherently socially distanced, so she’s been able to get out on the roads around Alabama working on her endurance riding, regularly taking 60-70-mile rides.
Those 60-70 mile training rides are a cakewalk compared to the Mt. Cheaha Challenge, where she’s ridden 100 miles and made the grueling climb to the top of Alabama’s highest peak.
One might think it’s a small miracle for someone with multiple sclerosis and traumatic brain injury to cycle competitively, particularly at the international level, but Schuble said working her body hard actually helps keep her MS at bay.
“For me, it gives me a goal to continue to work on my balance, my coordination, to continue to keep my health in check,” she said. “If I stop doing things, I start losing things.”
Many of the Paralympics athletes are wounded veterans, and their military training, Schuble said, fosters the fortitude needed to take part in such a grueling sport. Being a West Point cadet prepared her to push herself to extraordinary lengths.
“When you’re at the military academy, you really are pushed to your limit a lot and you get an understanding of how to play with your mind to push further,” she said.
These heroic Paralympians would love to see a crowd along the Cummings Research Park course as they compete in various events next weekend.
It’s free, and the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and Cummings Research Park encourage you to make signs, wear patriotic colors, tag the chamber and research park and the U.S. Paralympic Cycling team on social media posts and share the hashtags #Huntsville2021 and #Paracycling.
In addition to home-state athlete Schuble, here are some other notable Paralympians to watch while they’re competing in Alabama:
(All photos by Casey B. Gibson/ U.S. Paralympics Cycling)
Oz Sanchez is one of the top handcyclists in the world and competes in the time trial and road race events. Sanchez is a three-time Paralympian (2008, 2012, 2016) and a six-time Paralympic medalist (two golds, one silver, three bronzes). In 2001, while in the process of transferring from the U.S. Marine to the Navy to become a Navy SEAL, Sanchez was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured his spinal cord.
Ryan Boyle is a tricyclist, competing in the time trial and road race events. Boyle competed in his first Paralympic Games in 2016 where he won silver in the road time trial in Rio. In October of 2003, Boyle acquired a traumatic brain injury while riding a Big Wheel where he was hit and dragged by a pick-up truck causing him to immediately go into a coma. Emergency brain surgery was performed to save Boyle’s life, but he lost a portion of the back of his brain.
Will Groulx is a six-time Paralympic medalist (two golds, two silvers, two bronzes) and four-time Paralympian while competing in wheelchair rugby (2004, 2008, 2012) and cycling (2016). Groulx served in the United States Navy from 1995-2001 before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed 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, three bronze). Masters was born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident.
Want to go?
Because of strict COVID protocols, spectators won’t be allowed at the start or finish of the events at Columbia High School, but are encouraged to spread out on the grass on the exterior of Explorer Boulevard. But unless you plan to be there before dawn, don’t try to take Bradford Drive off of Research Park Boulevard, which will be blocked off. It’s best to enter from Jan Davis Drive, Voyager Way or Enterprise Way/Discovery Drive.
For a detailed list of the best places to park, and a full spectator’s guide, visit cummingsresearchpark.com/USParalympicsCycling/.