Owen Daniels Aims For Another Boost In Year 2 With The National Team
by Nicole Haase
Owen Daniels races in Elzach, Germany, during the 2022 world cup season. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Owen Daniels knew he had become pretty good at cycling. The question was how good?
Daniels, who is from Fontana, California, knew he was meeting the national standard for his handcycling classification, but his solo training, compounded by the pandemic, left him unsure of how he stacked up against his peers.
Finally, near the end of 2021, he applied for the national team. To his surprise, he made it.
“I’ve been trying to get on the national team,” said Daniels, who began racing competitively in 2012, two years after he was paralyzed in a car accident. “When you have goals and aspirations to be something in the sport, the first step is making the national team and being able to compete on an international level.”
That first step has so far been fruitful.
Being with the team gives him access to coaches, dieticians, nutritionists and training opportunities he simply did not have on his own. After years of steady improvements, Daniels reached entirely new levels in 2022.
“Making the team gave me a whole new motivation to train harder and stay on the right path, to work with my coach Tom Davis more and just see what we could do to keep this upward trajectory as far as my fitness and my racing goes,” he said.
While Daniels is new to competing internationally, he’s not new to competing or racing. He credits his years of racing “basically anything I could get my hands on” with making him feel comfortable with the higher intensity of races in Europe.
He had been warned by others that the style of European racers was different and could be difficult to adjust to, but Daniels said it wasn’t a big shock for him. He credits his bike-handling skills and experience taking turns with helping him acclimate quickly.
It seems to have worked, as in just his third-ever international race, he won bronze in the time trial H3 at the world cup stop in Ostend, Belgium. It was something of a shock for Daniels, who did not expect to make it to the podium in his first year.
“Winning bronze made me realize that everything me and my coach have been doing consistently for the last three years is finally paying off,” he said. “It also made me realize that instead of thinking about it as wanting to be in the mix and maybe a top 10 type of guy, that I can possibly podium consistently at world cup races that suit me. The bronze proved I could actually compete with the guys in the top 10 and I can continuously race with some of the best guys that I’ve looked up to in the sport for the longest time.”
Daniels is careful to add the “races that suit” him part because he’s very aware of the work he needs to do to become a more well-rounded racer. He admits to not being much of a hill climber, and that limits his abilities as a road racer. He also said he experienced some fatigue later in the season, so part of the offseason was focused on strength, fitness and nutrition that will help him grow as a road racer and prevent any drop off as the season wears on.
While getting the bronze medal was a huge accomplishment in his first year and it was a surprise, it was a steppingstone.
“Settling for third place really isn’t what I want to do,” he said. “At this point, I have to remember that I can’t settle for what I did last year, and I really need to push myself to new limits and kind of break through walls so that I can really push myself to the next level.”
In order to do that, he has stopped working and is focusing full-time on cycling. It’s something his wife Stephanie has been telling him to do for a while and, he said, something he couldn’t do without her. While Daniels is the one racing, he said his wife provided the support, stability and accountability he needed to reach the next level in his cycling.
With his recommitment and focus, the 40-year-old Daniels is trying not to look too far in the future. He doesn’t know if the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris are in his future, or what the next year might hold in terms of medals and titles won or podiums reached. Those aren’t what he wants to be focusing on.
“I’m definitely not counting it out, but I’m just trying to consistently get better from year to year and just see kind of where the cards fall,” he said. “For me, right now, it’s just about trying to be a better me day by day, and if I can be better at the next workout and the next workout and consistently do that, I’m gonna see progression and I have confidence that eventually I’ll get there.”
He has applied to participate in the first four world cup events this season but does not know yet if he will be invited. If not, the focus will be the third stop, held at his favorite course in Belgium, and the fourth stop for first Para-cycling road world cup race in the U.S., when Huntsville, Alabama, hosts over Memorial Day weekend.
In the meantime, he’s training on and off the bike to make sure he puts himself in the best possible position to compete. His first year as a member of the national team taught him a lot, but there’s a lot more learning left to be done.
“I learned I have to consistently push myself harder,” he said. “I’m constantly thinking about what my competitors are doing, so when I want to quit a workout or give up because it’s too hard, I keep going. I learned that what it takes to get to the top is more than what I was doing last year.”