Owen Daniels competes in the time trial world cup race in Elzach, Germany. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
When it comes to the progress he has made in para-cycling in recent years, Owen Daniels knows right where to place the credit.
“I think my wife is a big part of that,” said Daniels, who was paralyzed in a 2010 auto accident. “I finally got married, settled down and she really gave me structure. I credit my wife for a lot of it.
“Slowly but surely, we kept working. I stopped missing workouts. I think the biggest thing is structure, my family, being religious and keeping God in the picture.”
Part of his motivation is his 9-year-old son, Jayden, with whom he often rides through their neighborhood. Jayden recently set his top speed record.
“He got up to 18.9 miles an hour,” Daniels said. “He was pretty proud of that. He was super-pumped on that. He’s good fun.”
That solid foundation helped Daniels, a 39-year-old handcyclist from Fontana, California, earn a spot this year on the U.S. national C team.
“I’ve kind of come up quite a bit in the last few years,” Daniels said. “I was putting down really good results in 2020, but there was no racing to be able to really do anything with it. I knew I was making progress.”
While the pandemic had shut down racing during that period, Daniels got a feel for his fitness level when his coach — two-time Paralympian and world championships medalist Tom Davis — held a competition at his home in Fremont, Indiana. Daniels’ good friend, Paralympic bronze medalist Ryan Pinney, was also on hand.
“I didn’t know how fast I would be because of the pandemic and no racing,” Daniels said. “I was like 18 seconds off of Ryan. Right then, it was an eye-opener for everyone that I was kind of really close and my fitness had made leaps and bounds. That was kind of the start.”
Daniels made a major breakthrough in May at the season’s first world cup in Ostend, Belgium, when he won a bronze medal in the men’s time trial H3.
“I knew I was in good shape,” Daniels said. “I didn’t think I was in good enough shape to podium. The goal was top 10.
“I was very surprised. I didn’t expect to do that well. I was expecting to be competitive but nowhere near a podium.”
To that performance, he added 11th place in the road race in Ostend. Then it was on to the second world cup in Elzach, Germany, where he was 24th and ninth, respectively, in the time trial and road race.
“It was a great learning experience,” Daniels said. “It’s changed my goals.”
Daniels’ first goal is to stay healthy. In recent years, he has had surgery for bursitis in his left elbow, recurring bladder infections, and two bouts with COVID-19. So far, so good this year.
“I’m in great fitness. I really feel like I have a chance to be very, very competitive in the next world cup and world championships,” said Daniels, who caught up with U.S. Paralympics Cycling before competing last week at the USA Cycling Para-Cycling Road National Championships.
“My goal is to win national championships this year and be selected and to try and podium again in this next world cup or even world championships. My goal really is to move up to the ‘A’ team.”
The goal surrounding nationals has already been met – Daniels won a national championship title last week in the MH3 time trial. The team selected to represent the U.S. at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in August is expected to be announced next week.
As Daniels pointed out, however, he doesn’t want to get ahead of himself. He’s just trying to make incremental progress.
“I’m staying with the small goals right now,” Daniels said. “I’m kind of just taking it year by year, but the goal is (Paralympic Games Paris 2024).”
After the world cups, Daniels adjusted his training a bit.
“Right now, we’re working on my sprinting,” Daniels said. “We’re kind of pushing things further. We’re doing a lot of intervals that are later in the ride instead of getting them done in the beginning.
“I’m a very technical rider. I can handle the bike very well. I can really take turns faster than everyone, a little bit more on the edge. Where everybody wants to go slow, I want to go fast.”
And he wants to continue moving up the ladder in Para-cycling.
“I would really like to be a threat on any given day at a world cup,” Daniels said. “The goal is to be top five in the world, possibly top three, by next year.”