Elizabeth Mis crosses the finish line during her road race at USA Cycling Para-cycling Road National Championships. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
There was something about the women competing in the cycling events at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 that captivated Elizabeth Mis.
She was thousands of miles away in northeastern Ohio, and yet she felt drawn what she was seeing. Mis had grown up riding bikes for fun with her siblings. But this sport — the Olympics — looked different. She didn’t know women could do this at the Olympics.
Mis said the words, out loud, that she was feeling:
“I think I want to go to the Olympics and race.”
It seemed like a fantasy, but Mis, today at age 31, is now a bona fide contender for the Paralympic Games. Mis, who was born with a club left foot, is a newly competitive Para-cyclist, just won two titles in her first appearance at the U.S. championships and is now headed to international competition as an official member of Team USA.
The journey from Medina, Ohio, to being in the Paralympic Games Paris 2024 has a long way to go, but she is ready to work. Mis will be competing the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup on Aug. 4-7 in Quebec City — marking her world-level debut. A week later, she’ll compete again at the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships next month in Baie-Comeau, Quebec.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet that any of this has happened,” said Mis, who races on a regular bike in the WC5 classification. “If you had told me in January that I would be part of Team USA and heading to world cups or world championships, I would have told you that you were crazy. But it all happened. It’s really exciting, and I just want to do as much as I can to take in the experiences and get better. I know I have a lot to learn.”
Mis, who has had surgeries to address her club foot, has one leg — her right — longer and stronger than the other. The imbalance led her to think she could not be athletic while she was growing up. She played with friends and siblings but shied away from organized sports.
“It just didn’t seem like anything I could do, even if I wanted to, because of the way my body was,” she said. “I found other passions that made me happy and went there.”
She threw herself into music, becoming an accomplished saxophone player. Mis pursued music professionally as an adult, becoming known in the Cleveland-area for her talent. In recent years, she decided to set the music aside, focus on her career in computer programming and her marriage to husband Chris Naeg, and dream new dreams.
While Mis was only introduced to Olympic cycling in 2016, she said she didn’t know much about the Paralympics, or that she would be eligible to be a competitive cyclist, until the past two years.
Elizabeth and Chris participate in able-bodied races and clubs, and she was doing some online cycling training last winter to stay in shape. One day she jumped into a Zwift with three-time Paralympic gold medalist Shawn Morelli, and that sparked her interest in researching Para-cycling opportunities.
Mis did the classification process and started her applications to race. Her first experience in an all-Para world was in April’s U.S. Paralympics Cycling Open in Huntsville, Alabama. She met members of Team USA and felt welcome.
“It was like, ‘Whoa, look at this…’ I was really almost overwhelmed by all the high-level cyclists and just how good they all were,” Mis said. “It’s so, so competitive. They have the gear, the experience, the talent. I knew I had a way to go.”
Mis came home to Ohio and changed up equipment, adding a better bike over her basic ride, and started working on learning aero form for time trials. She knows she needs to further develop the strength in her left leg to compensate for the imbalance. And she needs to work on race strategy too. Nationals, which took place in July in Chattanooga, Tennessee, was another step up, showing her even more things she wants to develop. Mis also said the encouragement of Paralympians Clara Brown and Sam Bosco has given her a ton of strength.
This is all a work in progress, an unexpected happy journey for Mis.
Her expectations of what is possible are unlimited right now, all centered in one thing — joy.
“I love riding, I love racing, I can’t really describe all that I feel because it is something that makes me very happy,” Mis said. “And now to have this part of my dream coming true is really important, because I shows me that even more is possible if I want to work for it. And I do. I really do. I told my family and friends, ‘Let’s see where this goes.’ That’s how I feel.”