Monica Sereda competes in the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville, Alabama. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Every cyclist wants to be at their fastest heading into a big competition. That applies to both physical preparation, which come from strong training, as well as mental preparation stemming from confidence and feel.
First-time U.S. Paralympian Monica Sereda is feeling quite fast heading into the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, thanks to an accidental reason: she screwed up her trike.
Sereda, a native of St. Petersburg, Florida, decided to tinker with her equipment after coming home from May’s world cup event in Belgium. She took her training and competition bikes apart to clean and adjust them for the summer’s work leading to the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials and hopefully the Tokyo Games 2020.
All went to plan, save for one thing: Sereda didn’t correctly put her rides back together.
“I felt the shaft sliding back and forth and the brakes were sticking,” Sereda said, laughing. “I was essentially doing resistance training during the trials and afterwards. I was wondering why I was putting so much power and not getting the speed above 15 miles per hour. I couldn’t figure it out. Well, now we know I wasn’t imagining things.”
At the recent pre-Paralympic training camp in California, Sereda mentioned the strange doings of her trikes to mechanic. One tap of a hammer later, then a small adjustment, and boom — Sereda’s bike went from decent to perfect.
“I was just stunned, it was like night and day,” Sereda said. “Now, I am ready to go. I went out there and was killing it in the intervals. It was like the biggest change I could feel. I’m really excited for Tokyo, a little nervous, but really feeling confident to race. Thank God we got that fixed, right?”
Sereda, 54, has been racing internationally since 2017 in the WT2 class for athletes with moderate loss of stability and function, advancing steadily in experience and finishes. She experienced a series of health setbacks starting in 2018, when a serious accident — while riding her trike — required surgery and rehab. That affected her 2019 season. Then 2020, well, that was wiped out by Covid-19 taking out the world schedule as well as Sereda’s rotator cuff surgery and recovery.
The good news, now that the results of this twisty journey are clearer, is Sereda being healthy and strong. She was ready to go for 2021 and chase her dream of becoming a Paralympian. She took two gold medals at the Belgium event in May, helping her land the nomination to Team USA.
She now is ready to tackle the road race and time trial in Tokyo, and looks forward to the challenge of competing against the best in the world.
“The goal is always gold. I always wanted to make the Games, but now I have reached that, so I have refocused on training to win there,” she said. “These will be my first Games, so people are asking if I am getting the jitters. Not really. I’m just focusing just another race. It’s like a world cup or world championship.”
Sereda, a U.S. Army veteran, said the opportunity to represent the country on the highest level again is moving. She hopes the public will see the level of strength and athletic skill from other veterans like herself. Six out of 14 on Team USA for Para-cycling have military backgrounds.
“It is absolutely a privilege I take seriously; we are putting on the uniform to represent our country, and that always is so special,” she said. “It’s a bigger spotlight on us with the whole world watching. To me, it’s a bigger recognition than when we went to war. When people say, ‘Thank you for your service,’ it is nice, but this is something different to me. I don’t think people understand what the Paralympics are. Because I don’t look disabled to them, they don’t understand what happened to me is inside, not every issue is visible.
“I am constantly schooling people about what the Paralympics are — we are parallel to the Olympics. This is a chance for all of us to drive that home with our performances.”
She also hopes to rely on her strength, honed during her years of service, to help during the races and away from competition. Sereda cannot take her service dog, Biscuit, to Tokyo because to the duration of the 7,200-mile journey. Biscuit comforts Sereda during her bouts of PTSD and other times of mental health challenges.
Being away from Biscuit will be hard, as she learned during the pre-Tokyo training camp. But she feels the support of her girlfriend Sam and family, plus the closeness with members of Team USA, will carry her. Post-it notes, hidden everywhere from the kitchen to her sock drawer, carry slogans of inspiration, thanks to Sam, making Sereda smile with each discovery.
“Everybody is so excited about this and so positive, their words and messages are amazing,” Sereda said. “I’m ready to go and do this.”