By Claire Aiello
Vice President, Marketing and Communications
The U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open presented by Toyota is the first of four domestic cycling events set to take place ahead of the Paralympic Games, which will be held in Tokyo in late August. This is the return to racing for many of the athletes, as competition was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The Huntsville event will serve as a selection race for world cup races in Belgium and Italy, where Team USA Para-cyclists will seek qualification and selection for the Paralympic Games.
“As a proud partner of Team USA and U.S. Paralympics Cycling, and a long-standing partner with the City of Huntsville and Huntsville/Madison County Chamber, it’s an honor for Toyota to present the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open,” said April Mason, general manager of administration, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama. “We’re excited that they’re hosting such an important event in Huntsville, home to our Toyota Alabama team members, and we look forward to supporting our partners and their needs to host a successful event.”
Planning for the Huntsville event has been underway for months. Athletes will travel from around the Southeast and the U.S. to compete, and we even have a Paralympian who lives right here in Alabama! The public is welcome, and no tickets are needed. Come and locate along the course with your family and cheer on the racers as they loop around Explorer Boulevard.
“Cummings Research Park has been the site of several events for runners and cyclists over the years,” said Erin Koshut, the Park’s Executive Director. “With our wide streets, plenty of miles, low vehicle traffic on weekends and great locations for spectators, CRP is well suited to play host to these exemplary athletes on their journey to Tokyo. I know our more than 320 companies look forward to supporting the athletes and the Paralympics in this endeavor.”
The events will take place rain or shine, and everyone is invited to cheer on the athletes. Even though Alabama’s mask mandate will be lifted by race weekend, attendees are encouraged to follow current CDC guidelines. We will have signs posted along the race course encouraging families to space apart.
We’ve shared information with our local schools to encourage students to make posters, to give a big “Rocket City Welcome” to the athletes and their support teams. We encourage companies along the race course in CRP to invite employees and families out for the day and have a big show of support.
Special thanks to our local sponsors who are helping make this happen: Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Huntsville/Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Raytheon Technologies, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, PHOENIX, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Nesin Physical Therapy, and KBR.
We’ve posted lots of information on this page and cummingsresearchpark.com, including a spectator guide with course maps, competition schedule, parking details, and much more for optimum race viewing.
Here’s what will happen over the course of the two days.
Saturday, April 17
This day is for Individual Time Trials – athletes race against the clock earn their best time possible. Events start at 9 a.m. and run until about 3 p.m. with awards ceremonies to follow. The course starts at Columbia High School and follows a 15-kilometer lap around the Park, including into the campus of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and up and around the McMillian Park Double Helix Trail, exiting back and eventually ending at the high school for the finish line. Athletes in some categories complete one lap, and others complete two.
Sunday, April 18
Sunday is for Road Races, and the course is 12.1 kilometers. Depending on the category and classification, racers will complete between two and six laps. These events also start and finish at Columbia High School, using all of Explorer Boulevard as well as Moquin, Discovery, and Mark C Smith Drives. Sunday’s races start at 8:30 a.m. and conclude by 4:30 p.m.
This isn’t just a regular cycling race. You’ll see a variety of cyclists in this event:
The Para-cyclists you’ll see have incredible backgrounds. Many have overcome remarkable odds to compete. Some were born with a disability while others may have been injured years later. In fact, many are veterans who suffered an injury during their time in the service.
Jennifer Schuble competes in four cycling events, including time trial, road race, pursuit and team sprint. She is a current resident of Homewood, Alabama, and is a three-time Paralympian (2008, 2012, 2016) and five-time Paralympic medalist (1 gold, 3 silvers, 1 bronze).
She said she is very excited the race weekend is just a short drive from her home.
“I’m like a kid in candy land, I am so happy – I don’t have to pack up my bikes and fly,” said Schuble. “I just get to drive up I-65, and it will be the first time I’ve seen my teammates in over a year. For me, it’s extra special, because it’s local, and I’ll be able to share with people who aren’t from this area that Alabama is really a great place to train. You can ride year round, and we have really good roads to ride on too.”
Schuble, 44, has a military background. While attending the United States Military Academy at West Point to become a commissions officer, Schuble was a varsity athlete in three separate sports. During hand-to-hand combat class, she sustained a traumatic brain injury. She sustained an additional TBI later in a car wreck, and in 2004, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. This led her to the Lakeshore Foundation, a Paralympic training site in Birmingham, Alabama, where she was encouraged to get into cycling and started in 2007. In 2008, she won a gold medal and set a world record in the 500-meter time trial at the Paralympic Games Beijing 2008. She was the first female in the world to compete in team sprint as Team USA was only country to do it. At London 2012, she was the first woman to medal as a part of team sprint. When she is not competing, she works as an industrial engineer.
Here are a few other athletes you’ll want to watch:
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 (2 golds, 1 silvers, 3 bronzes). Sanchez grew up in Los Angeles and spent six years as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He became a part of the Special Forces unit, deploying twice to the Middle East. In 2001, while in the process of transferring to the Navy to become a Navy SEAL, Sanchez was involved in a motorcycle accident that injured his spinal cord. He started handcycling competitively five years after the accident. He was a 2012 ESPY nominee in the Best Male Athlete with a Disability category. He graduated from San Diego State University in 2006 with a degree in Business Administration and was named the 2009 San Diego Hall of Champions Athlete of the Year. His story is featured in the 2009 documentary Unbeaten.
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. At the age of 10, he had to learn to how to breath, swallow, talk, eat, stand, sit and walk all over again. Boyle wrote his own book titled, “When the Lights go Out: A Boy Given a Second Chance,” when he was a freshman in high school. He is a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and attended the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs.
Will Groulx is a six-time Paralympic medalist (2 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes) and four-time Paralympian while competing in wheelchair rugby (2004, 2008, 2012) and cycling (2016). Looking to make his second cycling appearance at the Paralympic Games, Groulx competes in time trial and road racing in the H2 class. Groulx served in the United States Navy from 1995-2001 before a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. Seven months after the accident, Groulx discovered wheelchair rugby and was immediately interested. His Paralympic career began with making three U.S. Paralympic Teams before switching to handcycling. Prior to his injury, he served as a nuclear-trained electrician’s mate and diver on a fast-track submarine stationed out of Norfolk, Virginia. Before joining the Navy, he attended the University of Tennessee on a volleyball scholarship. Groulx was nominated for an ESPY in the Best Male Athlete with a Disability category in 2009 and was named the U.S. Quad Rugby Association Athlete of the Year in 2010.
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 (2 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze). Masters was born in Ukraine, with both of her legs damaged by in-utero radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor incident. She was born with six toes on each foot, five webbed fingers on each hand and no thumbs. Her left leg was six inches shorter than her right and both were missing weight-bearing bones, and she was diagnosed with Tibia Hemimilla. After living in three orphanages, she was adopted at the age of seven. Over the course of seven years, she would have both legs amputated. At age 13, she began rowing. In 2011, she met her rowing partner Rob Jones, and in 2012 brought home a bronze medal from the Paralympic Games London 2012. She began skiing immediately after, training for 14 months leading up to the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. She would leave Russia with a silver and bronze medal. Due to a back injury after Sochi, she took up cycling as a recovery process and to help maintain her fitness. She qualified for the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 and finished just off the podium in fourth in the road race. Just recently, Masters earned six gold medals at the Para Nordic World Cup which puts her total gold medal count at 50 for her skiing career. Masters lists her mom, Gay, as her personal hero.
Clara Brown has been competing in the Para-cycling world championship circuit for two years and has already won six medals (2 golds, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes) with hopes of competing in her first Paralympic Games. Brown competes in three events: individual pursuit, time trial and road race. The postponement from the COVID pandemic has allowed Brown the opportunity to try out for Tokyo, since she would have been unable to compete last year due to injury. Brown was an avid athlete competing as a competitive gymnast, runner and skier before sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury at the C5/C6 level at age 12. After several years of physical rehabilitation, and some unexpected compounding injuries, Brown joined her high school rowing team as a coxswain. After rowing in high school and early college, she sought a competitive activity powered by her own means and purchased her first modified road bike her freshman year of college, which ignited her passion for bikes as a means of transportation and as a way to stay active. After graduating, she was hired at a bike touring company where one of her clients served on the USOPC’s Paralympic Advisory Committee and encouraged her to race competitively. Brown was invited to a talent ID camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in June of 2018, and then proceeded to compete at the third Para-cycling road world cup in Baie Comeau, Quebec, in August of 2018, taking bronze in the road race.
This article appears in the April 2021 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.