Jamie Whitmore in Ostend, Belgium for the 2021 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Jamie Whitmore knows it sounds a little weird to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the best times of her life so far. While many though isolation and fear since the world changed in March 2020, Whitmore has embarked on a different emotional journey: falling in love.
Whitmore and her now-, Brian Meinz, started dating during the early days of the pandemic. That journey has coincided with her training for this month’s U.S. Paralympic Team Trials for road cycling in Minneapolis and dealing with being a single mom of two 11-year-old boys.
Whitmore, who won gold in the road race and silver in track pursuit at the Rio 2016 Games, laughs when she talks about the adventure of the past year.
“I never expected this, any of it: the pandemic, races being canceled, everything moving to this year, and then Brian and I just finding each other at the right time,” Whitmore, 45, said. “It’s like everything else in my life — a rollercoaster ride. Nothing ever small happens to me, it’s always big. Super-deep lows, like my cancer, then cancer coming back, the sepsis, being depressed, trying to figure out how to survive as a single mom and pay the mortgage.
“This right now is good ride. I really am super happy right now.”
Meinz popped the question in late May, using tiles from a board game to spell out his proposal, and Whitmore said yes. They are hoping to wed next summer, after the pandemic is completely over and, in classic elite rider style, around the 2022 world cup schedule so a lot of her Para-cycling friends can attend the celebration.
The couple have known each other for a long time, thanks to their kids attending the same school since kindergarten in Somerset, California. She volunteers a lot at school, so she frequently sees Meinz and his kids.
Whitmore and Meinz have four children between them: her boys Christian and Ryder, his 11-year-old daughter Vivien and a son, Wesley, who is only 18 months younger than the trio. She felt a spark for Meinz right before the pandemic but didn’t really act on it because she was at the world championships and the U.S. national team training camp.
When she was back, and then the pandemic changes started, they decided to do playdates to keep the kids active. Soon, the playdates turned into adult dinner-and-a-movie dates without the kids. They realized their love was bigger than just for their kids, it was real between them too.
Whitmore said her mindset coming into the Minneapolis trials and, hopefully, the Tokyo Games, is different than five years ago. Her emotions have softened a bit, thanks to time and perspective, but also because she knows certain truths.
“I am going into trials with the mindset of giving it all I have, I want to win,” Whitmore, a survivor of spindle cell sarcoma, said. “But last time, I was on a mission, almost beyond driven to show I was going to make this team. I was not going to let cancer win; I was not going to let anything stop me. I was going to take names.
“This time, I am still determined. I want to show my kids, all four of them now, that and doing your best is what matters. You can win, even win gold medals. You can have situations where you lose and are crushed. But in the end, did you try your best, did you give it your all, were you honest and respectful in the effort? I know I will be able to look at them and tell them, ‘Yes, that is what I did here.’”
There are limited spots to be on Team cycling team, and a good result at trials doesn’t guarantee a Paralympic spot. Things like rankings come into play, meaning a high degree of uncertainty about the outcome for Team USA.
Whitmore has been outspoken about her concerns about the overall process of classifying Para-cyclists according to their limitations/disabilities. She sees the current system as deeply flawed and inconsistent, leading her to openly wonder if the categories and competitors reflect a fair outcome.
She also questions why there aren’t more spots for Para-cyclists, especially from countries with bigger rosters, in the Games. She wants to help lead these challenging conversations from the athlete’s perspective and, hopefully, through her unique perspective of being an elite able-bodied triathlete and now Para-cyclist, bring change.
“This is not about me, not at all. It’s about all of us. It’s not fair, because we are leaving the best of the best at home, or they can’t win their class because of what is happening,” she said. “I have won medals all my life, I know what it takes to win. But right now, we are not giving enough opportunity for athletes to go to the Paralympics. We have too many that either accidentally — or on purpose — are in the wrong classification, which ends being for their advantage. We all see what is happening, but what is going to make it right?
“I want to be part of the change when I step back, because I really feel we need to make these things happen for all of us to move forward.”