(L-R) Mallory Weggemann, Lex Gillette and Clara Brown speak about the 2020 U.S. Paralympic Team Trials during a press conference on Oct. 1, 2019 in Minneapolis.
MINNEAPOLIS — Since 2016, Minneapolis has hosted a Super Bowl, an NCAA men’s Final Four, the Ryder Cup and multiple X Games. But to Mayor Jacob Frey, hosting next year’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Cycling, Swimming and Track and Field is not just another major sporting event.
“This is an opportunity to represent Team USA, and I can’t emphasize this enough,” Frey said Tuesday at a press conference to kick off the countdown to the trials. “There is something special about representing your country on the world scale.”
Frey knows of what he speaks, as a Team USA marathoner at the 2007 Pan American Games who also competed at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Seated next to the mayor were three athletes who know that even better. Paralympic gold medalist Mallory Weggemann (swimming), four-time Paralympic medalist Lex Gillette (track and field) and Paralympic hopeful Clara Brown (cycling) will all be taking part in the trials June 25-28, 2020.
This is the second time in history that cycling, swimming and track and field will hold their Paralympic trials together, following a successful debut in Charlotte, North Carolina ahead of the Paralympic Games Rio 2016. For the athletes, it is a special opportunity to not only compete on the big stage in their own sport but to cheer on their U.S. teammates in other sports.
“Being able to go out and support some of your other teammates who are competing in other sports, that’s a great feeling,” said Gillette, who had the added bonus of competing in his home state. “To know that you have other athletes from different sports going out there from track and field going to the pool, or from cycling coming to the track, vice versa, it’s always nice to have support across the board.”
Weggemann also highlighted what a great opportunity it was for fans to come out and see different Paralympic sports all in one place. For some of them, it may be the first or only chance they get to see world-class athletes in action.
“It also opens up a great opportunity for the community to get involved,” Weggemann said. “Having three sports going consecutively at once allows people to be exposed to the Paralympic movement in a way that hasn’t been done before at a trials experience. … You get to come out and experience the movement at such a high level of athleticism. We as Team USA, I’m gonna brag a bit, we have some of the best athletes in the world.”
Like Gillette in 2016, Weggemann will be competing in her home state. But not only that, she will swim in the same pool at the University of Minnesota where her Paralympic journey began in 2008. Weggemann was recently paralyzed at the time and attended the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for Swimming ahead of the 2008 Beijing Games. The site of the elite athletes competing inspired her to become a Paralympian. She went on to become a Minnesota Golden Gopher herself, so she’ll really be competing on her home turf.
“When you’re a Gopher, competing at the U of M is pretty sweet,” she said. “And being able to show it off to the rest of Team USA… Minneapolis is amazing, and the U of M is incredible, so I’m very excited for that as well, to have a little hometown pride with my teammates as well. … To be able to come back here, all these years later and see how far the movement has grown since 2008 to where we’re at as we’re going into the 2020 Games, is remarkable.”
With three sports competing at once, the trials will be the biggest Paralympic event in the world until the Games kick off on Aug. 25. More than 400 athletes will be vying for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Team. Besides swimming at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center on the University of Minnesota campus, track and field will take place at the nearby Breck School while cycling will be contested on the scenic West River Parkway along the Mississippi River.
Many of those 400 athletes will be competing at a Paralympic trials for the first time, including cyclist Clara Brown. Brown only discovered Para-cycling just over a year ago, but has risen quickly up the ranks in her classification and won four medals at the Parapan American Games this summer in Lima, Peru. Brown is obviously eager to get her shot at the Paralympic team.
“It has been a short journey in the sense that I’ve only been involved in cycling for a year or so but, it doesn’t mean I haven’t worked incredibly hard to get to this point,” said Brown. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming of, and I’m excited to hopefully make the team.”
Whether a Paralympic veteran like Gillette and Weggemann or a newcomer like Brown, representing Team USA is a special experience for athletes to take part in and for fans to see.
“For (Minneapolis) to be hosting the Paralympic trials, that’s amazing not only from us as athletes being able to come here and compete but just for the Paralympic Movement here in Minnesota and in the United States,” Gillette said. “I think that it’s going to be incredible. They’re going to see some amazing athletes, they’re going to see some amazing performances, they’re going to see some things that will probably change their lives and allow them to see through their own lens differently and understand at their core these athletes are out here just as highly competitive, and the performances they’re going to put out are going to be world-class performances, and I think that the end of the day that’s what we want to do as athletes because we want the world to know and the community that we’re not playing out here.”