By Sarah Kuper
“It will be one of the toughest games I’ve been to, but I imagine it will be a party.”
So said Paralympic cyclist Jennifer Schuble, who calls Homewood home and trains at the Lakeshore Foundation – an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training center in Homewood.
Schuble, who competed in the Beijing and London games, said it will be one of the toughest Paralympic games she’s attended because of the hot and humid conditions.
Heat and humidity pose extra challenges for any athlete, but high temperatures and dense air are particularly tough and dangerous for Schuble.
After sustaining traumatic brain injuries in a combat class at West Point and receiving a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2004, Schuble has difficulty regulating her body temperature. She also deals with issues of balance, stamina and motor functions, and she experiences spasticity and numbness.
But Schuble has always been a stellar athlete. Throughout her childhood and in high school and college, she excelled in soccer, swimming, running and shooting, winning state championships and lettering in a wide range of sports.
So despite her health problems, Schuble was not about to let go of her athletic identity and competitive nature.
With the support of the Lakeshore Foundation and its staff and leadership, Schuble adapted to her disabilities. Her new sport of choice became cycling.
“In cycling you lock your feet in, so it was easier to have control,” she said.
She began competing, both indoors on a track and outdoors in road races.
In 2007, Schuble went to her first national para-cycling championship and then earned the opportunity to go to the World Championship para-cycling road race in Bordeaux, France.
The competition also included an indoor track race, but at that point Schuble had never competed on a velodrome-style track.
“I took a crash course at a velodrome in Atlanta then went to Bordeaux. I fell over the first time in the starting gate. But my second time I got silver,” she said.
From there, Schuble advanced to the 2008 Paralympic games in Beijing – winning a gold medal in the 500-meter time trial and several silver medals.
Between the 2008 Beijing games and the 2012 London games, Schuble set records and won a lengthy list of national and international championships.
It was during the London Paralympics that Schuble achieved one of her proudest accomplishments.
“I was the first woman ever to medal in the mixed team sprint event. I was on the podium with a bunch of men.”
In the mixed team sprint, men and women may make up the relay team instead of having a separate men’s and women’s event. Until Schuble’s performance in 2012, no team racing with a female member had medaled in the event.
Although the thrill of the competition is a big part of Schuble’s drive to race on the international stage, she said the opportunity to travel and experience culture through the Paralympic games is another reason she trains so hard.
“It is a great way to see the world. For example, I got to see the real Beijing by racing through the streets and the alleys,” she said. “We get to ride and explore. I’ve raced through vineyards and seen castles in Switzerland. We see a lot more than the athletes playing volleyball.”
Schuble said the national and international para-cycling world is pretty small, which means there are always familiar faces at events.
“We all know each other at this point. Every competition is like a family reunion.”
Besides forming friendships with fellow para-cyclists, Schuble also uses them as a resource when dealing with her disabilities.
“We compare methods and strategies for keeping our core body temperature cool and ways to better control our bikes,” she said.
Because of the constantly changing nature of MS, Schuble said she is always looking for ways to adapt to stay competitive.
“I’m always learning more about my boundaries and how much I can push myself,” she said.
Looking toward Rio, Schuble said she is anticipating a lot of world records will be broken and the tracks will be fast.
“It seems everyone is getting stronger. The velodrome track will be fast. I’m a person who likes a fast track.”
In addition to racing competitively, Schuble has a successful career in the auto industry. She has held key new project management jobs at Honda manufacturing of Alabama and Mercedes-Benz USA.
Although she must approach life differently because of her brain injuries and MS, Schuble said she keeps her symptoms in check through her athletic pursuits.
“Riding my bike is what helps me stay healthy,” she said.
The Rio Paralympic games begin Sept. 7. The Olympic games begin Aug. 5. ϖ
Lakeshore Foundation To Host Fundraiser
Both a fundraiser and a celebration, Lakeshore Foundation’s “Night of Champions” event is Aug. 5 at the Foundation on Lakeshore Drive in Homewood.
The Lakeshore Foundation is not only an official training site of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes, it also is an organization dedicated to enabling people with disabilities or chronic illness to lead full and active lives.
The Night of Champions event will feature talks by foundation leaders as well as Olympic and Paralympic athletes and coaches. A live broadcast of the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games will be shown on multiple screens, and a Brazilian-themed dinner will be catered by Kathy G.
Guests will have the opportunity to meet several Paralympians headed to Rio and wish them well.
Tickets are on sale at lakeshore.org.