Six Para-Cyclists Looking To Make Their Paralympic Debuts In Tokyo

by Joanne C. Gerstner

The best American Para-cyclists have been pointing their road training, goal-setting and competing for this moment: the 2021 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for the Tokyo Games.

It will all come down to the marquee event on June 19 in Minneapolis.

The trials will feature individual time trials along the citys scenic West River Parkway, with the full U.S. Paralympic cycling team named on June 20 (the track athletes will be chosen based on 2020 world championships results).

Among those competing in Minneapolis will be several several rising stars hoping to qualify for their first trip to the Paralympics. Or, in one case, his first trip as a cyclist.

Lets meet some of the potential Paralympic rookies:

Clara Brown (Road and Track)

It seems like the last accomplishments to check off for Brown are to reach the Paralympics and win medals. Brown, 25, has done everything else the past two years, as one of the hottest and fastest progressing Para-cyclists on Team USA. She has won six world championship medals and four Para PanAmerican Games medals since 2019. And she just won her first world cup race last month in Ostend, Belgium. Brown, a WC3 competitor from Falmouth, Maine, started competitively riding in after participating in a talent ID camp in 2018. She’s a former competitive gymnast who has taken fast to the bike.

Travis Gaertner (Road)

He’s new to the U.S. Para-cycling team, but definitely experienced in the Paralympics. Gaertner was part of the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games with Team Canada, winning gold medals in wheelchair basketball. Gaertner, 41, became an American citizen in 2012 and has turned his focus to the handcycle. He’s been part of Team USA since 2017. Now residing in Burien, Washington, he saidhe’s been able to train well during the pandemic. His best international showing was bronze medal in the world championships H4 road race in 2019.

Cody Jung (Road)

He’s been a multi-sport athlete since childhood, but it wasn’t until 2013 — his senior year of college at Point Loma Nazarene — when he turned his interest to Para-cycling. Jung said he didn’t know about the Paralympics, or opportunities for athletes with cerebral palsy. But once he knew, there was no turning back on the bike. He competes in C4 and just took home a silver medal in the time trial at the Ostend world cup. Jung is a 29-year-old resident of Poway, California. His best finishes are in time trial, having finished fifth at the 2019 world championships. 

Ryan Pinney (Road)

Pinney comes into Minneapolis in strong form, having reached his first international podium in the H3 road race in Ostend. His silver medal was also the highest finish to date for an American in that event. Pinney, a native of Cave Creek, Arizona, has been steadily rising in the standings, posting his highest ranking after sweeping the H3 road and time trial events atApril’s U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Alabama. Pinney, 40, stands out from the pack with his self-customized magenta and gray handcycle emblazoned with flags and his daughter’s initials.

Matthew Rodriguez (Road)

Rodriguez is showing strong form coming into the trials, having picked up time trial bronze in Ostend. His breakout was 2019, winning gold in the time trial and silver in the road at the world cup in Corridonia, Italy. He added silvers in both events at the 2019 U.S. championships. Rodriguez, a 48-year-old native of San Diego, survived a car accident nearly 20 years ago but was left with a nearly severed spinal cord. He discovered riding on a trike, first for rehab, and turned it into his passion.

Noah Middlestaedt (Road and Track)

Technically, Middlestaedt newbie to the trials, having just jumped into the C3 track (2020) and road (2019) elite racing worlds. But he comes with years of competitive experience, having been a competitive cyclist since his teens. Middlestaedt posted two top-10 finishes in the recent Ostend world cup and won the road title at the 2021 U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open. Middlestaedt, 25, will have the advantage of racing close to home, as he is a native of nearby St. Cloud, Minnesota. Look for him to be quite busy at the trials in his other role as a coach. He is the main coach for his girlfriend, Clara Brown, and works with several other riders.

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes about sports regularly for the New York Times and other outlets. She has written for since 2009 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.