Cody Jung competes in the Para-cycling Road World Cup in Belgium. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Cody Jung is known for his riding ability on his cycle, but he’s been riding on a roller coaster since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
From witnessing the birth of his daughter to returning to Para-cycling with lowered expectations to flourishing in recent months to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Team, Jung has experienced some intense emotions that make him extremely grateful for his berth in Japan.
Nothing was guaranteed with only 14 — later expanded to 16 — cyclists on the team, and Jung said that he wasn’t even ranked among the top 10 in his own division roughly a year ago when he returned after the pandemic. His focus was on the world championships held in Portugal, for which he built momentum with some sold efforts in a world cup in Belgium before capturing silver in the time trial at worlds.
A short time later, he was headed to Minneapolis for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials to try for his first Paralympic Games.
“Back in (last) August in Alabama in that race, I was like down on 12th on the ranking list,” said Jung, who was born with cerebral palsy and competes in the C4 class. “Personally, I did a great ride but after that, I was like, Tokyo is probably not in the cards. With that ranking list, when it comes down to actually racing it’s pretty arbitrary and hard.
“With that, I had to keep trying, and just see what I could do. I had worlds, that was my big target this year anyways. When thinking about making the team, I did a couple good races in Belgium. And after Belgium, I was like, shoot, maybe I have a shot at this.”
Like all athletes, Jung had his competitive lifestyle changed at the outset of the pandemic with events canceled or postponed. But it was an even more life-changing event that happened shortly thereafter that heightened his focus in a different direction, the birth of he and wife Evelyn’s first child, daughter Emi, on March 28, 2020.
“I would have left for the first world cup two weeks after she was born,” he said. “ to kind of have that stuff put on hold was in a way kind of nice because I got to stay home and focus on being a new parent with my wife.”
Getting used to the temporary life of not competing left him a bit wanting, although Jung quickly adapted and found a new joy in his cycling.
“Once you get into this sport, the competition is what drives your training,” Jung said. “And it took some time for me to realize is that why I started cycling is that I love riding bikes, and it’s an activity that enables me to get out there and live a healthy lifestyle.”
Returning to competition in August was not easy as far as results went. But the important thing was that Jung felt that he was executing all of his planning and preparation properly.
In Ostend, Belgium, in May, Jung was disappointed to lose by only 11 seconds to Colombia’s Diego German Duenas Gomez. Still, the second-place finish gave him confidence for the world championships in Cascais, Portugal, held on a former Formula 1 racetrack that is similar to the course in Tokyo.
While Jung improved to finish ahead of Gomez this time, it was another rider, George of Great Britain, who pipped him for the gold medal. However, his first world championship medal was a dream come built even more momentum for the Paralympic trials.
“The goal obviously at worlds was to win,” Jung said. “The guy who beat me was a level above, he wasn’t there in Belgium. I took care of who I had to take care of from the world cup in Belgium. I’m really happy about the worlds, it’s once in a lifetime to not only compete at a world championship and to be on the podium, it was a really, really special thing for sure.”
However, if Jung was to reach Japan, there was to be no rest for the weary, with the event held from June 9-13 in Portugal followed by the Paralympic trials from June 17-20. With no time to get home to Southern California in between, Jung estimated that he spent a total of 60 hours traveling between the two competitions.
“This has been a long two weeks away from home,” he said. “It was really hard not to make a little bit of party after the worlds result. It was hard to just keep going and another race next week but that’s kind of what you need to do.”
When Jung finished in a blistering 38:29.95 over 29.1 kilometers in his MC4 race in Minnesota, he was ecstatic but did not know whether it would be good enough to get him to Japan, joking that he would have to stop training and get a “real job.” He learned later that he made the team, and is eligible for the individual time trials, 20-mile race, and 55-mile road race in Japan.
And while his wife and daughter won’t be able to make the trip with him due to the pandemic, Jung should be well prepared for battling through difficult circumstances as his experience route to Tokyo has shown.
“It’s definitely something where you just have to focus on the work that you’ve done, you have to focus on the people around you who have helped you get you to that point, and you have to go out and do what you can do,” he said.