Para-Cyclist Jamie Whitmore poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 7, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. – The shelves at Jamie Whitmore’s home are crammed full of trophies from her days as a professional triathlete and mountain biker, and now as one of the world’s best para-cyclists.
But Whitmore is missing the one prize she covets most — a Paralympic gold medal.
She’s working hard to fix that, as Whitmore is close to landing a spot on the U.S. team for the 2016 Paralympic Games, scheduled for early September in Rio de Janeiro.
She won the WC1-3 title at the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Time Trial, held Saturday on a 7.3-kilometer (4.5 mile) road course laid out along the streets of the Park Huntersville business park, and is expected to be named to Team USA at the conclusion of the event.
But unlike her mountain biking and triathlon years, there’s more than just racing for the 40-year-old Whitmore, who survived a bout with cancer to become a mother to twin 6-year-old boys, Christian and Ryder, with her husband, Courtney Cardenas.
“When I was able-bodied, I had everything at my fingertips,” said Whitmore, of Mount Aukum, California. “I had no kids, I could recover, it was all about racing. But now, I’m at a different point in my life.
“I’m still as competitive as ever, that’s just what drives me. I love competing; I’ve been competing since I was (age) 5. But now there’s more of a balance to my life — I’m a mom, I’m coaching, I’m a motivational speaker, (and) I’m racing.”
A 1998 graduate of California State-Northridge, Whitmore opted to pursue a career as a professional triathlete and mountain biker instead of her degree path in criminal justice.
In 2002, she won her first XTERRA off-road triathlon meet title, and soon became the series’ most successful female athlete, with 37 event wins, six national titles and, in 2004, a world championship.
But a persistent pain in Whitmore’s lower left leg was soon determined to be something worse — spindle cell sarcoma, a form of cancer that was affecting the sciatic nerve.
In 2008, Whitmore began a process of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, essentially ending her pro triathlon and mountain biking career — and any dreams she had of competing in the Olympic Games.
“I was knocked out of my game before I had a chance to try to qualify,” Whitmore said. “I was actually going to try (to make the U.S. Olympic Team in mountain biking) in 2012.
“People I had raced against qualified for the team, people I had beat. Now they had progressed and they were amazing, but knowing that I could’ve been close to making it, and was taken out too soon … that kinda drives me now.”
After a few years off a bike, Whitmore finally climbed back on and began training for para-cycling events.
Like her time in mountain biking and as a triathlete, Whitmore’s career again took off.
She won her first U.S. Paralympics national title in 2012, and the first of her three straight UCI World Championship titles (in both C3 road racing and C3 road time trial) a year later.
“It took me three years to get back on a bike,” Whitmore said. “The moment I got back on, it’s been a five-year journey to get back to where I am today.”
Whitmore’s journey has one more step to take — the Rio Paralympic Games.
She won the WC1-3 title in Saturday’s U.S. Paralympics Cycling Time Trial in 33 minutes, 29 seconds over 21.9 kilometers (13.5 miles). But Whitmore knows that time won’t necessarily translate into performance on the Rio Games course.
“For this kind of a course, which goes up and down and has turns, it’s hard to gauge what speed you can hold,” Whitmore said. “So it became about maintaining power on the downhill (portions), and on the last lap just going for it.
“All I kept thinking was ‘Rio — don’t let up,’ because in Rio, it’s a flat course. There’s three turnarounds, and there’s going to be no on and off like here. I do well with recovering and going hard, but in Rio it’s just go — there’s no recovering.”
Still, Whitmore will be among the riders favored to bring back a medal from the Rio Games. She’s currently ranked No. 2 in the world in her division by the UCI, behind Germany’s Denise Schindler, the silver medalist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.
Whitmore also knows that this may be her best chance to finally put that gold medal on her shelf.
“I’m not getting any younger,” she said. “That’s been my focus this year going into Rio.
“I’ll always be able to put in the quality training, because that’s just the way I’m wired, but I’ve also got to put in the recovery time so I can keep going hard.”
Bill Kiser is a sportswriter based in North Carolina. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.