Old pro Travis Gaertner navigates Paralympic qualifiers for new sport, new country



Travis Gaertner competes in the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Cycling Open on April 18, 2021 in Huntsville, Alabama.

When you’ve waited 16 years, what’s one more?

This is the scenario that paracyclist Travis Gaertner faces as he seeks to qualify for his first Paralympic Games with the United States team during the United States Paralympic team trials later this month- here in Minneapolis.

Trials have been postponed for a year, along with the Tokyo Games, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And while Gaertner is new to the process for Team USA, he is not at all new to competing at the highest level.

That’s because he’s already a two-time wheelchair basketball gold medalist for Canada, helping the team to victory in 2000 in Sydney and 2004 in Athens. While that was a long time ago, Gaertner, now 41, remembers what it’s like to compete with the best in the world.

“A lot of memories came back to me from the last time I did this when I tried for the (Paralympic) team in a team sport, how I competed in that team sport, a lot of great memories – and a lot of confidence building too, “he said.” Just remembering what I’ve been through before, what it took to make the team, of what it took to be successful at the Games, and it really helped me with my confidence, really helped my frame of mind.

While basketball fueled Gaertner’s competitive juices in his youth, he has been practicing hand cycling since 2017, a year after the last Paralympic Games in Rio. He quickly established himself as a contender, joined Team USA in 2018 and won bronze in the road race at the 2019 world championships.

Gaertner has lived in the United States since 1998, attended the University of Illinois, and became a United States citizen in 2012. He is now in a completely different mindset as a husband and father of three than when he was ‘he was young and single and played basketball. with Canada, sometimes training three times a day.

“It’s been 20 years since Sydney and 16 years since Athens, so a lot of these lessons are the same ones I’m trying to take,” he said. “It’s a little easier in the sense that I’m at a different stage in my life. I have a family, I have a full-time career, and I wouldn’t be able to play basketball in the situation I’m in now. Team sport takes a lot more time at home.

While Gaertner isn’t as engrossed in training as he was in the past, he quickly pointed out how much more taxing cycling is on the body. This is especially the case as an older athlete, and it has allowed him to appreciate his level of fitness more.

“As an athlete with a disability, fitness is more important, I would say than a person without a disability, because in order for us to maintain our independence in a wheelchair or whatever, your fitness has a big role to play in that. . Gaertner said.

The pandemic has thrown its plans for 2020 out the window, although there have been many bright spots. Gaertner noted that he could spend more time as a father and that he felt healthier with his children at home since “the kids didn’t go to school and didn’t report colds.”

The big negative was not being able to compete, especially since Gaertner is not a cycling veteran with years of experience to lean on.

“I’m fairly new to the sport. I haven’t been in the field a lot, I haven’t been in those situations in these road races where you have to learn, ”said Gaertner. “Every time I go to the line right now, I’m learning something. And I’m learning a lot because it’s so new and I love to learn. I like to go out and experiment. I like to learn on my own. I didn’t have that.

Part of the learning experience was seen at last month’s World Cup in Belgium. He said he was happy with a fifth place in the time trial but only finished eighth in the road race as some trial and error in training did not work out as he intended. .

There is no guarantee that Gaertner will be part of the United States squad, with limited Paralympic spots in Minneapolis. However, he is encouraged by a solid mock trial that simulates the racing course.

“I know what needs to be done, I know what my race plan is, I know how to stretch and identify my limits and I will try to cross those limits,” he said. “And if I do this on race day, whether or not I’m competing in the Games, you can’t get mad. These are the things that are in your control.

His basketball background gives him another advantage in that he’s used to the attention and pressure of the biggest events in the world. Gaertner recalls being sued for autographs with his wheelchair basketball teammates in Australia.

“We had 12,000 people in our gold medal game,” he recalls. “So having that experience of just the noise of the crowd is something I had never experienced in disabled sport before. It was really different, and it forced you to really focus.



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