It wasn’t a perfect race. It wasn’t even a competition that mattered in the big picture for an elite Para cyclist.
But getting out on her trike and doing a 10-kilometer race during the Florida Senior Games on Dec. 10 meant the world to Team USA’s Monica Sereda. It was a lovely way to close out her up and down 2020, by delivering a small sign she was ready to take on the new year with confidence.
“This 2020 brought me through so many challenges: surgeries, rehabs, the stress of COVID,” said Sereda, 53, who is aiming to compete in her first Paralympic Games next summer in Tokyo. “I had so much disappointment about the (2020) Games being postponed, it was hard. But now, I see it was actually a blessing for me — a huge blessing.
“It let me get self-care, recover and do rehab. It let me check in on myself and set big goals.”
Sereda, a resident of St. Petersburg, Florida, entered 2020 with high hopes. She had done a lot of hard work in training and knew she was strong. But not everything physically was where she needed it to be.
She was still experiencing significant side effects from a serious 2018 accident on her trike and realized she needed to address them. The postponement of the Paralympics and cancelation of this year’s world cup road competition schedule meant Sereda now had the time to have her rotator cuff repaired, do rehab and get back to training without missing anything.
Sereda, a U.S. Army veteran, said being mentally strong is one of her best traits. But even the strong are tested through the pain and struggles of post-surgery and rehab. She has endured many surgeries already, in the wake of a serious 2012 car accident.
Cycling has always been a refuge for her, since childhood, by bringing a sense of freedom.
She loved to ride BMX when she was a child growing up in suburban Chicago. A University of Kansas and St. Leo University alum, she turned to Para-cycling in 2014 and started international competitions in 2017, further deepening her love of the sport. That year she competed in her first world championships, where she finished fourth in the time trial.
“When I get on a bike, I find freedom,” she said. “It always has been a joy for me. It brings me back to childhood, that euphoric feeling. It’s actually a feeling of total release. It lets me go to a good place.”
This time around, it’s been six months, and Sereda said the recent 10K showed her hard work is paying off.
And it was also a nice signal, she hopes, of bigger things to come.
She said her first competition of 2021 will be the U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open on April 17-18 in Huntsville, Alabama. The event serves as the second selection race in the qualification process for Tokyo, so Sereda is targeting to be at a strong level. She wants to make her first U.S. Paralympic team and wants even more in Tokyo.
“I’ve been working with a personal trainer, and we are going at it,” Sereda said. “I feel really good about 2021. I have big goals. As a competitive athlete, you’re always looking to do better, I really want to be the best version of myself. I want to 2021 to be a transformative year for me. I have 8 ½ months until the Paralympics that is my one core focus. I have an awesome crew taking care of me from coaching, my riding group, my sports psychologist, my macro meals are right. Biscuit (Sereda’s service dog) is taking care of me.
“My goal is to bring home gold from Tokyo. That is what I am working on every day right now.”