Monica Bascio, seen here competing in 2011, is looking forward to her first Paralympic Games in London this summer.
It’s 3:30 in the morning and Monica Bascio has to grab a flight that will take her across the Atlantic Ocean. With the USA Cycling Paralympic Road National Championships set to start in less than 36 hours, the two-time U.S. Paralympian has no time for any jet lag from her latest competition in Europe.
From London to Augusta, Ga. with a quick stop in our nation’s capitol.
“My son, Henry, will be 5 this summer, and he definitely does not accept ‘I’m tired’ as an excuse for fatigue,” the 42-year-old Bascio said Wednesday while waiting for her connection flight inside Dulles Airport. “It’s been a challenging task to fit in my required training and return to mom duty. But I plan to ride that train right into London.”
Even though Bascio is determined to take first among a loaded handcycling field at U.S. nationals, her finish in Augusta will not weigh heavy on her resume. Thanks to two world championships wins last year, she already has qualified for London and will compete at the 2012 Paralympic Games later this summer, pending approval from the United States Olympic Committee.
But Bascio is a unique athlete with incredible range. She has already represented the United States as a cross-country sit skier at the Paralympic Winter Games in 2006 and 2010. During her six-year run with the U.S. National Paralympic cross-country ski team, handcycling was always on the back burner.
This will be her first official appearance at the Games as a handcyclist, but she will not be a stranger to the world’s other top competition when the Individual H3 Time Trial starts in London.
“I don’t feel particularly peaked right now in my training,” said Bascio, who is a 15-time U.S. handcycling champion. “My entire focus this year is specifically in preparation for the London Games.”
Bascio has played the handcycling waiting game for the last eight years.
As the newest part of the Paralympic Cycling program, handcycling became an official sport at the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games. Although handcycling was included, there was no race for the women, which was a huge disappointment for Bascio, who was one of the top women handcyclists in the world at that time.
Another setback sidelined Brascio four years later for the 2008 Games in Beijing, when the women’s handcycling event was added. While in Norway for the last World Cup skiing race of the 2008 season — just a few months before the Beijing Games — she broke her left tibia and fibula while transferring into a team van after a training ski.
Although the leg was not fully healed before the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Trials two months later, Bascio still raced and performed well. But she did not have enough preparation under her belt, did not make the U.S. team and had to kiss the Beijing Games goodbye.
But that didn’t deter her dreams of competing in handcycling in the Paralympic Games.
“Monica is, by far, the most motivated athlete I have ever coached,” said Alison Powers, an experienced cyclist who has coached Bascio over the last year. “She is constantly trying to get better. If there is a bad race or something didn’t go her way, she always comes back and trains even harder. She demands excellence.”
Enter the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
“Having experienced two previous Games does help get over the initial shock of glamour the Games provide,” Bascio said. “But I am there with only one agenda: to win. I plan, prepare and expect to win.”
Bascio has been a true competitor and avid skier her whole life. But in 1992, Bascio was skiing with friends near Lake Tahoe when she crashed while navigating a small jump. The accident decimated her 12th thoracic vertebra, severed her spinal cord and it resulted in complete paralysis from the waist down.
But Bascio, a New Jersey native, never let a wheelchair slow her down. After the accident, she went to Santa Cruz, Calif. and earned a degree as an Occupational Therapist from San Jose State University.
In 1998, her then-boyfriend, Ian Lawless, bought Bascio her first handcycle and then her competitive spirit began to take over. Bascio finished second in both the time trial and road race at the inguinal U.S. Handcycling National Championship that year in Duluth, Minn. Over the next five years, Bascio won more than 30 races and became one of the best handcyclists in the world.
“I started competing and winning, which of course, is highly motivating so I pursued it on a grander scale,” said Bascio, is also well known for winning the Sadler’s Alaska Challenge, one of the world’s longest and toughest handcycle races, five times between 2000-06.
“I have several national wins over the years with no real competition,” she added. “It is only recently that the level of competition has increased and the racing has become so much more demanding and interesting.”
After Bascio started to focus on handcycling, she married Lawless, who is now the U.S. Handcycling Executive Director. Her husband has always been there for Bascio during her drive toward the many world championships along the way and the 2012 Paralympic Games.
“My husband has always been more supportive than one could ask for,” Bascio said. “Many dinner conversations are about my rides and training progress. Sometimes, I even tire of it first. Ian knows my strengths and challenges in my training. He is a great resource in many areas of the sport.”
In 2010, the cycling classifications were changed. The new system broke down the handcycling athletes in to four categories based on functional ability. Bascio is now included in the H3 class and races against athletes with a similar level of function and ability.
Union Cycliste Internationale — which is the governing body of professional cycling, including the Tour de France — did this to level the playing field and it also improved Bascio’s chances for a win.
“After that, I realized that I might still be competitive so I entered each race with a ‘one race at a time’ attitude and have been successful,” Bascio said. “I addressed my mental game and changed my training regiment to include more stretching, more recovery and more focused training.”
Powers noticed a more focused approach from Bascio over the last year but she said there is still work to be done over the final two months before the Games.
“Monica knows that she needs to work on technical things like going around corners tight and to challenge how much she can suffer physically,” said Powers, 32, who has been involved in competitive cycling for the eight years. “Her shorter power and threshold power has come up the last few months and everything has continued to get better leading up to the Games.”
As for traveling around the world and performing on little sleep, Powers said that is when Bascio is at her best.
“Monica has been there and she’s done it for years,” Powers said. “A hard travel day is not going to change her. That’s what really sets her apart for the others. Her mind is set to the task at hand everyday. Her task today may be the U.S. nationals. The big picture is London. And she plays to win every time.”