Jenna Rollman competes on her handcycle at the 2022 UCI Para-Cycling World Cup in Ostend, Belgium. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
In an average year, Jenna Rollman probably rides her handcycle farther than some people drive their cars.
“Last year, I did 11,056 miles,” said Rollman, who covered that distance in 754 hours. “I love endurance cycling. I am a huge endurance athlete. I really excel at it.”
Formerly a competitive able-bodied cyclist, Rollman was injured a decade ago during a training ride when she was hit by a car, leaving her unable to walk again. She spent a year and a half recovering and was determined to return to racing. Rollman began handcycling in 2004 and competing in early 2015.
“I just hit the road,” she recalled. “I think in about seven months, eight months, I was already racing. As soon as I could, I started (racing), and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Rollman competed internationally for the first time in 2019 at a world cup event in Belgium, winning bronze medals in the time trial and road race. That performance earned her a spot on the U.S. national team. Her first event wearing the red, white and blue was a world cup in Quebec.
“I didn’t do well there,” Rollman said. “I had a bad moment there. But I learned a lot.”
Rollman, 34, of Rancho Cucamonga, California, remembers asking herself if she wanted to continue competing.
“Overwhelmingly,” said Rollman, “the answer was yes.”
COVID-19 prevented competitions in 2020, but in the only world cup race of 2021, in Belgium, Rollman took a bronze medal in the women’s road race H3.
“That was amazing because it allowed me to keep my team status,” Rollman said. “It showed that I had greatly improved, that I could come back and medal again. So, to me, that was consistency.”
Unfortunately, Rollman fell short of making the Paralympic team for Tokyo.
“There (were) just people better than me, which is good, because they deserved to go,” Rollman said. “But it also pointed out some weaknesses that I really needed to work on. I feel like I have addressed those really well.”
In this year’s first two world cup events, Rollman finished inside the top seven four times, including a fourth-place finish in the time trial in Belgium.
“The fields were the biggest fields I’ve ever raced in in an international race,” Rollman said. “So, that was awesome. The weather was great. Racing conditions were great.
“It was nice to race with everyone in full form, and I felt like my placings were pretty great.”
Rollman is feeling confident heading into the new Paralympic quad, citing her Southern California training alongside partner Jeff Rusk. Longer term, her sights are set on Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
“I want to get on the Paralympic team,” Rollman said. “I was within range for Tokyo. I was super-close. And I feel like I definitely should be a contender for Paris, absolutely. So, I am going for that. I’m 100 percent committed.
“I’m just proud of what I’ve been doing. I’m in the best shape of my life. I love cycling. It’s like a dream come true for me to do what I’m doing right now.”
Rollman hopes to continue doing this for a long time. She points to 53-year-old teammate Alicia Dana, a Paralympic and world championships medalist.
“That just gives me incredible hope,” Rollman said of Dana. “So, it would be awesome if I could be somebody else’s hope in the future. I hope to be a great example for the women who come after me.
“I started from nothing, and it’s taken me many, many, many years to get there, but now that I’m there, it’s like wow, I push myself even harder to keep going. I put in so many hours a week. And there are many times when I would not like to train, but I know that I have to, and I do it.”