U.S. Paralympics Cyc... Features Shawn Morelli Lives ...

Shawn Morelli Lives Life In Limbo Since Postponement

By Sheridan Powell | Sept. 30, 2020, 5:34 p.m. (ET)

Shawn Morelli competes in the women's C4 3000m individual pursuit track cycling at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games on Sept. 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Para-cyclist Shawn Morelli described the last few months as “living in limbo.” With competitions cancelled, the Games postponed and training put on hold, life has been filled with uncertainty. 

“I was set and ready to go to the Games, just like everyone else. I was in the best shape I could have been,” she explained. “Now it’s kind of time to reset, re-evaluate and figure out what we want to do as far as my family goes.” 

Morelli, who competed at her first Paralympics in 2016, has flipped into maintenance mode.

“It’s living in limbo - do you train hard and ultimately have your races postponed again? How do you approach the season?” Morelli laughed. “And that is exactly why I pay a coach, to figure all of that out for me. I just try to execute what he puts in the plan.” 

Morelli first found Para-cycling through a rehabilitation program after she was injured in Afghanistan. Morelli served as an engineer officer in the Army.

“I took a bike into a local shop and they tuned it up for me then invited me out on their group rides,” she explained. “They basically taught me how to ride in a group, let me crash into them until I figured out how to ride a bike on the road with only one eye.” 

It was that group that signed Morelli up for her first race. From there, it was only a few years before she attended her first national meet and was found by the U.S. Paralympics Cycling team. 

It was a little exciting, a little overwhelming, a little nerve wracking - kind of just a gambit of emotions.

Morelli qualified for her first Paralympic Games in 2016, where she traveled with the team to Rio. She admits that her first introduction to the Games was an overwhelming one. 

“It was a little exciting, a little overwhelming, a little nerve wracking - kind of just a gambit of emotions,” Morelli laughed. “I didn’t know quite what to expect. You don’t know how everyone is going to come into the Games as far as fitness and mental game.” 

Morelli won two gold medals at the 2016 Paralympics, in both the road time trial and the individual track pursuit. She didn’t know it at the time, but her medal in the individual pursuit was the first gold won by Team USA in Rio. 

When asked about her favorite moment of her career, Morelli’s answer was quickly that one. Her mom, who had only watched her compete a few times, took her first plane ride all the way to Rio to watch her ride in the Paralympics. 

“Riding past the stands after the individual pursuit and seeing my family and my mom up there, all of them waving American flags - that was probably the most surreal moment,” Morelli said. “Everything after that was honestly just kind of a blur of emotion and excitement.” 

As Morelli continues to train, she also continues to weigh the pros and cons of returning to competition. As she pointed out, returning to competition means more than just putting her own health at risk, it impacts her family as well. 

“Part of me doesn’t want to risk my health to go race and part of me wants to go throw down and give it all against the rest of the world,” she admits. “There’s just so much to take into consideration and it’s all stuff I’ve been having to consider when planning for these next few months.” 

Whether Morelli competes or not, she is encouraged by the continual growth of the Paralympic movement. 

“There’s so many people who think that if they get hurt or have a disability that their lives are over, and really there’s so much more they can do - not just in sport but in general to enrich their lives and then through their stories to enrich other people’s lives,” she said.

Morelli emphasizes the importance of continuing to put the Paralympics on the front page, ensuring that all athletes know they exist and know that they too can chase their dreams. 

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Shawn Morelli