Jennifer Schuble competes in the Women's Individual C5 Pursuit Cycling qualifying at the London 2012 Paralympic Game on Aug. 30, 2012 in London, England.
Maintaining a strong and smart elite training regimen has been a challenge for many U.S. Paralympians this year. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down training facilities and gyms, canceled competitions and trials, and then postponed the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
So knowing when to peak, and now how to recalibrate goals and training calendars, can be stressful.
American star cyclist Jennifer Schuble, a Paralympic gold, bronze and three-time silver medalist over three Games, has tried to see this year’s upheaval as just another thing to take in stride.
Her perspective on 2020’s wild curves is determined and even-keeled, the same qualities that have let her deal with her multiple sclerosis since 2004.
“For me, everything that’s happened this year just means a date change for Tokyo, that’s all,” said Schuble, 44, who competed on both the road and the track. “I’m different than a lot of cyclists. I’ve been to London, Beijing, Rio (Paralympic Games), I know the opportunities to compete are still ahead of me. I am keeping myself focused on working on training, when I peak. My blueprint has changed, to get it on track for next summer. I’m actually in some of the best shape ever right now, because I’m just home and training. No interruptions with travel and the competition schedule.”
Schuble’s aim is to get “bigger and bigger” by building in training and, so far, she thinks she’s stronger and faster than in the past.
Her calm perspective on a globally chaotic 2020 is also formed by surviving a tough 2019. She was in a car accident 19 days before the 2019 world championships and sustained injuries serious enough to sideline her. Schuble said the recovery process and losing her national team status because she couldn’t compete were tough challenges to overcome.
“Last year was a nightmare: injury after injury, bike wrecks, car wrecks, surgeries, getting stuck in Europe. … It was like everything went wrong,” Schuble said. “It’s about perspective though, and I still know I want to compete and be part of this sport. So, I am.”
Schuble openly admits that she never saw herself still competing at the elite level — or even at all — before her first Paralympics in 2008. Then she won three medals in Beijing, including her gold. However, she privately wondered how her MS would progress in damaging her body.
The prognosis for MS, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, is to do your best to live it. Sometimes it can go into remission, other times, it can progress quickly.
Schuble said knowing her body lets her manage her MS though medications, lifestyle and sports. And in turn, those elements have kept her as an elite Para-cyclist for more than a decade. She has set multiple American records and won world championships on both the road and track over her career.
“Back in 2008, I honestly would have thought my disease would have progressed more,” she said. “I thought I would be hand cycling, not being able to ride my bike because of having a degenerative, autoimmune disease. I know that things change from day to day.
“Tomorrow, I could wake up and not be able to walk. But I decided long ago that I was going to fight as hard as I could for as long as I could, and my cycling definitely has helped me overcome my disability.”
Schuble said the first time she competed, in a 2007 race in Bordeaux, France, her balance was so shaky that she fell over and crashed at the starting line. She is constantly working on her balance and strength, trying to keep herself as stable as possible. MS causes disruptions between the brain and the central nervous system, leading to debilitating nerve damage.
Schuble also credits her job, as a supply chain manager for a Mercedes-Benz manufacturing operation in Vance, Alabama, as keeping her super engaged this year. The pandemic makes her job more challenging, as sourcing parts from around the world during ongoing abnormal production cycles is a daily puzzle to be solved.
“I deal with crisis every day, it’s my job,” Schuble said, adding a laugh. “My perspective on the world right now is seen from more of a bigger view. I see what is happening in every country because I am talking to my colleagues and seeing what they are going through in their countries in real time. This is people’s lives and livelihoods, and there is no work from home in the auto industry.”
Schuble sees the coming months leading into the in-flux 2021 season as a time for her to maintain her focus. She still isn’t sure when — or where — she will be racing next year, but the culmination goal is still Tokyo.
“I’m very self-disciplined. I don’t need anybody to tell me what to do and how to train at this point,” she said. “I am doing my own path and advocating for myself. I don’t need somebody to tell me to ride my bike today. I will get it done — for me.”