After A Year Of Happiness, Jamie Whitmore Is Ready For Another Challenge
by Joanne C. Gerstner
Jamie Whitmore competes in the time trial in Quebec. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Jamie Whitmore laughs when she lists all the big things that have happened in 2022.
An early summer outdoor wedding in her home state of California was followed by a happy fall honeymoon in Croatia. Her preteen twins are doing well. The two-time Paralympic medalist had a breakthrough in her riding, leading to a bronze in the road race at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Quebec in August.
It was a big year, and Whitmore is basking in all the good things.
“I really packed it all in,” Whitmore, who turned 46 in May, said. “They are all blessings. All of it. I feel like things have been pretty hard the past few years, for a lot of reasons, but everything has turned the corner. I’m happy right now, and everything is great.”
Whitmore’s racing has always been strong, but she now thinks she was held back a little by her personal life. She traces everything back to the wake of the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, where she broke through as a rookie Paralympian to take gold (road race) and silver (track pursuit).
Being a single mom, with other family concerns, meant she couldn’t be fully present when she went away to train or compete. Real life brought pressures and worries that could not be fully compartmentalized, even while racing. Part of her was always worrying about home.
Her trip to the Tokyo Games in 2021 wasn’t what she expected, finishing seventh in the time trial and road race, and eighth in the individual pursuit on the track. Whitmore kept training after the Games, hoping for something to change.
Things did change in 2022. Finding love with Brian Meinz, and then blending their families through their wedding last June has brought joy and peace. She can be all-in when on the road, like this year’s swings through Europe, the U.S. and Canada for training and racing. Things are handled at home, so she can tackle things elsewhere.
“I felt like I was in a slump for so long, my racing was good, but just not all there,” she said. “I was racing hard, but the results were not the greatest for me. Finally, last year, it all clicked. I had strong finishes to go along with the racing. Something shifted, and I could bring more of myself to what I needed to do.
“Brian’s love and support means everything, I know things are OK. I feel much more whole, and that lets me do more in every part of my life.”
Whitmore isn’t joking about doing more. She’s in the early stages of trying to launch a new Paralympic career as a Nordic sit skier. She’s a cross-country newbie, but said is learning quickly and hopes to get rated to start competing in early 2023.
It’s a new challenge that’s testing her body. The sit ski requires her upper body and core to provide the power, unlike her cycling, which is leg dependent. Whitmore is learning the reality of taking hillier portions of cross-country trails or accidentally getting out of the groomed runs. There have been a few crashes and scrapes, and laughs too, which is all part of the learning process.
The Challenged Athletes Foundation and U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing are helping Whitmore learn her new sport, and she is enjoying the process. The challenge of being a newbie brings her joy.
“Realistically, it’s going to take like two years for me to see where this is really going. Can I get to the Winter Paralympics?” Whitmore said, noting that the next Games will be Milano-Cortina 2026. “I want to see if I can be good at this. I’m an athlete, I want to be the best at whatever I do. I know it sounds ambitious, but why not? I am having a ton of fun, it’s a lot of work. I am building up my upper body in a way I never could have on the bike.
“I am still doing my bike training, so I feel the difference. I can get up faster because my arms are even stronger. It’s making a difference in my body. I am trying this to see where it takes me. I am not saying I am going be as amazing as like Oksana (Masters), but let’s try it.”
Whitmore said she is taking the competitive cycling part of her life year-by-year right now. She’s hoping to reach the Paris Games in 2024 and is committed to her training for this quad. She’s seen how far her C3 classification has grown, both in depth and competitiveness, since she started competing at the world level nearly a decade ago.
It’s hard to be at the top, and even more difficult to keep reaching for the tiny advantages to win. The competitiveness of Team USA, and the cap on rider slots across classifications for the Games, makes reaching the Paralympics particularly complicated.
“I’m in the deepest and hardest class, so it’s no joke,” Whitmore said. “We need more slots at the Games for all of us. Things need to be looked at to give more opportunities to reflect the reality of the talent.
“I enjoy the challenge of trying to be at the top, the effort to be the best. But I am also realistic. I’m 46, and you can’t do this forever. I want to give my all to be on the podium every time, and now, maybe it will also be in another sport too. I have my drive to be the best.”