IDAHO — A historic weekend showcasing the talents of adaptive athletes from all over the United States has come to a close. For the first time ever, Para-nationals with four Paralympic events was hosted by the Challenged Athletes Foundation Idaho in one location.
The event finished with a road race in Melba that tested the athlete's mental and physical abilities.
"I had a blast, racing was so much fun today," Josh Sweeney, a Para-national athlete from Idaho said. "The road race was a longer distance. We all had to do 5 laps, and that hill climb to the finish was tough."
It was Sweeney's first competitive para-cycling race, in fact, he built his own hand-cycle one week before the race.
“It was crunch time you know I needed a road kneeler, so I worked with a local builder, and myself and we basically assembled a hand-cycle and we finished it up last Saturday," he said. "I had a week of riding on it and was like alright here we go and it actually worked really well, but I needed to be a little lower."
The four races were criterium, time trial, road race, and relay. They each featured over one hundred elite para-cyclists competing for the National Championship title.
“You see all the courage, every one of these athletes did something hard whether it was because they had the courage to do it for the first time or they pounded up the mountain in Melba. That is courage,” Jenn Skeesick, CAF-Idaho Regional Director and one of the main organizers of Para-nationals said.
An opportunity for her to showcase Idaho to athletes from all over the states, but also to show the community the amount of talent these elite para-cyclists have.
“The adaptive community here has been amazing," Sweeney said. "Being able to show everyone that it’s serious. It’s elite-level sports, and these people are training really hard going to the Paralympics working their butts off and they're averaging 20 m.p.h. plus in these races. This isn’t just a charity for fun event it’s serious, so it is really cool that this is just as elite as normal cycling."
On top of competing to be a National Champion, these elite athletes also introduced and mentored the next generation of adaptive athletes in the sport of cycling through the multiple clinics that CAF-Idaho held this weekend.
"We knew that we had such an opportunity with so much talent coming into town and we wanted to find unique ways to get out entire cycling and athletic population engaged and so we did that," Skeesick said. "We had people who tried hand-cycling for the first time all the way up to Paralympians heading to Tokyo. It was amazing to see."
The weekend ended with a medal ceremony. Athletes were awarded gold, silver, or bronze, but the closing ceremonies were also a moment to celebrate the opportunities CAF-Idaho is providing adaptive athletes with.
“I think we are moving the needle," Skeesick said. "What we can do in Idaho because of the support from the Albertson Family Foundation is we get to be creative, bold, and thoughtful, but then we get to wrap our arms around athletes and say come it is a welcoming community and we are ready for you. All the athletes felt that and they all want to come back and that was the measure of success for this weekend."
To view the final results from the Twilight Criterium and Para-nationals head to results.racedayeventsoftware.com.
Good luck to all the Paralympic athletes heading to Tokyo in a couple of weeks, including Idaho's own Will Groulx who will compete in hand-cycling events.