Tristen Chernove remembers where he was when his love affair with cycling began.
For his fifth birthday, Chernove received a tiny BMX bike with a logo of Mighty Mouse on the front. His father drove him to a nearby park in their hometown of Lund, B.C., where he rode the bike on a grassy hill.
It was at the top of the hill, riding down and letting gravity take him to the bottom, where Chernove felt on top of the world.
“My earliest fantasies of adventure were riding my Mighty Bike, with a backpack and sleeping bag, along Highway 1, the world’s longest road,” Chernove says. “I’ve always loved cycling and driven by that passion.”
Chernove still possesses these emotions even as he rides indoors using the virtual training program called ‘Zwift.’
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are postponed until 2021. The announcement came after the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees agreed to not send their athletes to Tokyo if the games occurred this year.
Chernove, along with members of the Canadian Para Cycling team, was in Hawaii for Paralympics prep when the news broke. The initial reaction was that of disappointment which quickly turned to gratefulness, knowing that Canada was doing everything possible to protect its athletes during these unprecedented times.
“I am very proud of Canada being the first nation to step forward to not send a team,” Chernove said. “It was clear that it was the only ethical and realistic choice that could be made.”
Chernove competed at the 2016 games in Rio, where he earned a medal of each colour. His motivation for getting gold in Tokyo was very high, after collecting two silver medals at the World Para-Cycling Track Championships in Milton, Ontario, last February.
The 44-year-old has a different perspective, given that he has already competed on the Paralympic stage. Other members of the Canadian Para Cycling team were training for their inaugural appearance.
Keely Shaw is one of them.
The Saskatchewan native’s love for cycling flourished last year, when she won a silver medal in 2019 at the World Para-Cycling Track Championships.
Shaw started competing in 2017. Her ascension allowed her to represent Canada in Tokyo.
For Shaw, while agreeing Canada made the right decision to not send athletes, the news came with mixed emotions.
“When I heard that Canada wasn’t sending a team for Tokyo, my heart dropped,” Shaw said. “But once the Games were postponed, there was a sigh of relief.
“The Olympic and Paralympic Games are such an opportunity for a team to come together and celebrate what sport is. Sport brings people together. And we aren’t in a climate where that’s possible.”
For many Paralympians, there is the challenge of balancing training along with family and life responsibilities. As Chernove explains, fewer job opportunities exist for Para athletes than able-bodied athletes.
Trying to balance the health, family and financial obligations is at the forefront of whether Chernove decides to compete at the Games in 2021.
“It’s not so much the age but rather the number of commitments and responsibilities that I have in my life,” Chernove said. “I have to balance so many things and ask so much of so many other people to achieve my training schedule.”
Every athlete undergoes a different training regimen to achieve peak form for the Games. According to Chernove and Shaw, cyclists have an advantage as the training schedule doesn’t change much given Canadian COVID-19 quarantine guidelines.
They have the luxury of competing on the track and the road. The track requires more power while the road tests endurance and aerobics skills.
Social distancing isn’t stopping Chernove from achieving his 20 hours a week of practice. The Canadian team is setting up virtual meetings using Zwift to mimic the feeling of an actual race.
For Shaw, the extra year of training allows her to log more miles. It also provides a chance for her to rediscover the love of cycling. The daily communication and training with her teammates boost morale during these uncertain circumstances.
The virtual races have a unique twist for the winner. There are several choices for the top prize, including head coach Sebastien Travers singing a Celine Dion song or sharing an inspirational message.
“Practicing social distancing and isolation doesn’t mean you have to be alone,” Shaw said. “My team is my second family. By having regular virtual calls, meetings and team workouts, it is a great way to help maintain that sense of family and community.”