On the track or the road, Joe Berenyi looks for gold
On Day 2 of the London 2012 Paralympic Games, Joe Berenyi won gold in the men's individual cycling C3 pursuit final.
Joe Berenyi on the podium at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Cyclist Joe Berenyi’s first Paralympic Games adventure turned into a school assignment for his youngest daughter, Tatum.
The writing assignment for Tatum, then in the second grade, was to capture the excitement and memories from the London 2012 Paralympic Games, where her dad won a gold medal in world-record time, plus two other medals.
“Being able to relive that from reading how she wrote it, it was worth it just for that,” Berenyi said.
Just imagine what those writing assignments could be this year.
Berenyi will compete in two world championships in 2014. First up is the UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships, April 10-13 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Then, spanning the end of August and the beginning of September, the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships will offer Berenyi the chance to win a world title on U.S. soil as the event will be held in Greenville, S.C.
Berenyi and the rest of the U.S. Paralympics Cycling National Team spent last week at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., training for the track world championships. They left Friday for Mexico.
And while Berenyi has competed in a Paralympic Games and also in several track and road para-cycling world cups, the trip to Mexico will be a first.
“Joe is already a Paralympic champion and has no problem coming in to Mexico as the favorite in the C3 men’s 3-kilometer pursuit, even when you consider this is actually his first appearance on the track at the world championships,” said Ian Lawless, the high performance director for U.S. Paralympics cycling. “He's had to battle back from some nagging injuries in the offseason, but he is always ready to lead Team USA, and his knack for consistently focusing on going fast — no matter what — is infectious among the team.”
“I’m real excited to represent the USA, as always,” Berenyi said. “I’m expecting to do pretty well, see how it goes.”
The track worlds are another step toward the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games. Berenyi, a resident of Oswego, Ill., where he lives with his wife, Jill, and daughters Syd, Gwen and Tatum, is excited about Team USA’s big-picture goal for Rio.
“One of our main goals is to be the No. 1 para-cycling team in the world by Rio,” he said. “That’s one of the main things. With the hard work and the good support, I think it’s a very realistic goal.”
Berenyi will likely be one of the riders leading the United States toward that top ranking. He won a gold medal in individual pursuit at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and will be a favorite in that event at the world championships in Mexico. He also won a bronze medal in team sprints in London and a silver medal in the individual time trial.
At the world championships, he’ll compete in the C3 pursuit and 1-kilometer time trial.
“Joe has a unique style,” Lawless said, “and when you see him kitted up on the bike, it draws your attention. We think that’s an advantage for Team USA.”
Berenyi surfaced as one of the nation’s best para-cyclists in 2011, just one year before the London Games. He won a gold medal in the 4-kilometer individual pursuit at the 2011 U.S. Paralympics Track Cycling National Championships and won silver medals in the time trial and criterium plus a bronze medal in the road race at the 2011 U.S. Paralympic Road National Championships.
One year later, he was the world cup overall gold medalist and a three-time Paralympic Games medalist.
“Getting the gold was a tremendous achievement,” Berenyi said. “The other medals, too, I was very proud of.”
A member of the Illinois-based ABC Cycle Club, Berenyi is appreciative of U.S. Paralympics. He was an able-bodied cyclist before a construction accident in 1994 cost Berenyi his right arm and severely injured a kneecap. After a few years, however, he was back to riding.
“I’m glad there’s a good enough program to support all of this,” he said.
There have been challenges. At the World Cup Final in 2013, Berenyi injured his shoulder in a crash. He actually continued to race while his shoulder was injured, Lawless said. The result was months of rehabilitation over the winter. Berenyi has been preparing for the track world championships only for the last two months, and even that preparation was limited due to frequent bad weather conditions in Chicago’s western suburbs.
Normally, Berenyi would spend much of the winter training by riding outdoors.
“In Chicago, I didn’t have a chance to do that because the weather was so bad,” Berenyi said. “It was all indoors training.”
In training for both the track and road seasons, Berenyi said he has been trying to rehab methodically while trying to not do too much too quickly. And with a chuckle, he reminds himself that he is 45 years old.
“Being as old as I am, I don’t recover as well as when I was younger,” he said.
Lawless knows one thing.
“When Joe is healthy, he’s hard to beat,” he said.
Other Paralympic cyclists will find that out next week, when the track world championships begin. The 45-year-old rookie from the United States will be out to win gold.
“I’m proud to be a Paralympian,” he said. “It’s an honor.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for USParalympics.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.