Keely Shaw’s drive and determination made for a quick ascent to the Paralympics, where a flurry of firsts and a bronze medal followed.
The Midale, Sask. para-cyclist, who has wrapped her first major Games, opened the competition on Day 1 with a bronze in the C4 3,000-metre individual pursuit — Canada’s first medal in Tokyo.
This was all but pre-determined for Shaw.
“When I was watching the able body games … I would hear ‘this person won Canada’s first medal,’” Shaw said over a video call with the Toronto Observer. “That had me thinking, that could be me, knowing that I race on Day 1.
“To have that come true all of a sudden and be Canada’s first medalist was absolutely unreal.”
The 27-year-old managed to secure Canada’s first medal by a mere hundredth of a second over Australian Meg Lemon, who placed fourth. This set the stage for the next time the two met, it was on the road, where Lemon knocked the Canadian into fourth and off the podium.
“We kind of switched podiums,” Shaw said. “You can bet in the next race I’ll be itching to find that spot on the podium back.”
Shaw won her first international medal, a silver, at the 2019 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships. It was quite the accomplishment, considering she had only been racing professionally since 2017.
“It’s hard to imagine that a mere four years later (I am) on the podium of the world’s greatest sporting event,” she said. “It’s pretty wild. This is probably my ninth race ever.”
As a youth, Shaw played high-level hockey before an accident on her family’s farm derailed her Olympic dreams. The C4 athlete remains a fierce competitor and cycling has quickly become part of the Saskatchewan native’s identity.
“I fell in love originally with road cycling,” she said. “I feel like I have been racing bikes my whole life. It’s been such a huge part of my life for the past four years that it’s hard to imagine a life without it.”
Shaw is accomplished on the track, on the road and in the classroom. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in kinesiology specializing in exercise physiology and sport nutrition.
“I think school and training have helped with each other by giving me something else to do,” she said. “(School and training) helped me be well balanced instead of placing my entire identity in one or the other.”
Shaw has blended her two disciplines in the past. Her master’s thesis explored the effects of dark chocolate on cycling at high altitudes. However, she prefers that her trainers take care of her kinesiological needs while she focuses on her training.
“The reason I’m good at racing bikes is because I like to suffer,” Shaw said. “It’s easy to quit. It’s easy to say I’m going to dial back a bit … When that pain starts to dig, that’s when you get to feel that sense of accomplishment.”
Shaw’s final race was plagued by poor weather, making the Fuji Speedway treacherous. As a result, the Paralympian decided to be more conservative than usual. She finished safely, but not in spectacular fashion.
“I have really bad reputation in road races … I crash a lot,” Shaw said. “ My number one goal for today was to keep it on two wheels with rubber sides down.”