Aaron Keith Is Not Settling Despite His Strong 2022 Season
by Joanne C. Gerstner
Aaron Keith competes at the 2022 Road World Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
U.S. Para-cyclist Aaron Keith has plenty to brag about coming off the strongest world championships season of his career. But he still feels like he has room to improve.
Keith, who won his first Paralympic medal at the Tokyo Games last year, followed up by taking five silver medals across the road and track world championships earlier this year.
But for Keith, a native of Woodinville, Washington, the medals get stashed in an increasingly stuffed backpack at his house. His focus is instead on what might have been this year. Namely, he sees missing winning gold.
“The number one thing for me, the thing that is leaving the bad taste a little bit, is that I came up short at times when I think I could have won at worlds,” Keith said. “I mean, I would trade one or two or all of the silvers for gold. When you come up short, by just a few seconds or a fraction of a second, that makes you motivated for the next time you are in that position.
“I’m just this way. The buddy who subs in my practice when I am gone kind of laughed at me when I got home. ‘As usual, Aaron, you’re blowing off that you won a bunch of silver medals.’ And he’s not wrong. I am still hungry to do a lot more, and I’m not satisfied with this.”
Keith’s riding career has been on a steady ascent. He has been competing in the world championships since 2013 for road and 2015 for track. Yet he earned half of his 10 career world championships medals this year at age 51. His 2022 silver haul was in the road time trial and road race, and then the scratch, omnium and individual pursuit in track. He was also fourth in the track time trial.
Keith is grateful for the successes but wants to use 2022 as a series of lessons to build into a stronger 2023. He’s been setting goals for next year, with everything from technique to equipment to nutrition on the list. Maybe even a wind tunnel visit or two to check for drag points.
“This has really molded my motivation, because I know there is not much between finishing second and being first; everybody is so good, you have to do everything right,” Keith said. “I want to get more speed, more power. Our Super Worlds (the UCI Cycling World Championships next August in Glasgow, Scotland, which will include all cycling disciplines, and both able-bodied and Para-cycling) will be a huge event. I want to get there and be in really strong form.”
The last few years have been intense for most elite riders, going from the uncertainty and extended preparation time for Tokyo because of the COVID-19 pandemic to the post-Paralympic emotional and physical letdown. Then the 2022 Para-cycling season started soon after. Now the 2023 season and the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 loom large on the calendars.
Keith said he relaxed his training intensity this year to reset himself. He’s busy with his practice and an active home with two sports-loving teens. Being present in the other aspects of his life helps focus his priorities for cycling.
Keith is taking a short training break right now, getting into his kids’ fall sports and enjoying being at home.
“This is not easy to do, because I don’t have a ton of free time to train,” Keith said. “Some of my top competitors, this is all they do — train and ride full-time. And I am happy for them, that’s just not my life. So when I am working with the coaches to see what things need to improve, it may be for me to maximize the hour or two I have to train or get in the weight room. I’m going to dial that focus up a lot to get ready. Everything will get back on point.”
Keith’s competitive nature doesn’t prevent the admission of reality. Things are going well, and he is seeing nice results in the biggest races. There is always room to improve, but his hard work is getting rewarded.
“I do know this has been a really good year, and I am sitting back and reveling in the fact that I got where I did,” Keith said. “I did my best, sometimes pushing through some tough circumstances, got on the medal stand, and did the things Team USA needs. I always want to enjoy those moments, and I do. I really can’t complain.”