Mettle tested, blind runner wins medal – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News
Jennifer Sharp, left, and Wendy Werthaiser, language arts teacher at Ashland Middle School, pose after winning a tandem road race at the USA Cycling Para National Championships July 11 in Boise, Idaho.
Jennifer Sharp, front, and Wendy Werthaiser, a language arts teacher at Ashland Middle School, placed first in the tandem road race at the U.S. Para-cycling Nationals July 11 in Boise, Idaho.
Ashland teacher is part of the National Cycling Championship team
Wendy Werthaiser was just starting to take bike racing seriously about four years ago when she realized she couldn’t take it anymore.
The degenerative disease that once stole her mother’s sight – cone-stem dystrophy – had sunk its teeth into Werthaiser’s, and the Ashland Middle School language arts teacher was forced to accept that he driving fast was out of the question.
Werthaiser’s racing ambitions were too big to give up, however, and since she couldn’t replace her failing eyes, she decided to do the best thing and borrow a pair. Now part of a tandem racing team with Jennifer Sharp, an accomplished solo rider from Colorado, Werthaiser is a new national champion.
Racing for the first time since their fourth place finish at the 2019 Pan Am Games, Werthaiser and Sharp claimed a double victory at the recent U.S. Para-National Cycling Championships in Boise, Idaho, winning both the time trial. women’s tandem race on Friday July 9 and the women’s tandem road race two days later.
Both wins were special for their own reasons for Werthaiser. Standing on the podium after the time trial victory, she became emotional when the announcer told the audience that Werthaiser was racing for Flywheel Bicycle Solutions, the Talent bike shop that sponsored her and burned down in the Almeda fire. .
The road race turned out to be the perfect culmination of a good weekend. Werthaiser and Sharp had talked for years about how fun it would be to sail to victory across the finish line as Werthaiser threw his hands in the air. . When the opportunity presented itself to the nationals, they did not let it pass.
“So as we approached the finish (Sharp), we were like, ‘OK, there it is. I’m going to come down… so you have to get up and swing your arms crazy, ”Werthaiser said.
Did she do it?
“Oh god damn yeah,” she said with a laugh, “I screamed like a 12 year old.”
The duo completed the time trial in 52 minutes and 38 seconds, around nine minutes faster than second-place Clackamas’ side despite being eliminated by turning around, and won the road race in 1 : 58.28, about 10 minutes faster than the finalists in New London, New Hampshire.
Werthaiser was still in her twenties when she discovered she had cone and rod dystrophy and would eventually lose most, if not all, of her sight. She was able to ride a bike for years before it became dangerous to continue riding alone, and that’s when she began to explore the possibility of doing tandem races.
“I know there are a lot of blind athletes out there, so I started to investigate and see what other people with visual impairments are doing,” she said.
She found an organization that is hosting a training camp at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., About four years ago. For someone who used to ride alone, almost everything in the tandem was new. Riding back as a driver, Werthaiser had to learn to work well with his partner, the pilot.
Once she adjusted to the weight distribution and balance, however, Werthaiser was surprised at how quickly she became comfortable with the arrangement.
“It was actually very easy for me,” she said, “because being myself on one bike requires a lot of focus and concentration to be able to see and pay attention and to assimilate everything to be safe. . Being on the back of a tandem, I can really let go of that kind of responsibility. All I have to do is focus on pedaling as hard as possible. not to worry about obstacles, I do not have to worry about the climb or the sharp turn.
From a pilot’s perspective, Sharp said, the chemistry develops over time and goes far beyond the physical demands of the sport. You have to be strong, of course, but the tandems have to work in synergy. “. You must understand not only how to communicate when pushing, but you must also physically feel this movement together. “
This chemistry on the bike usually builds over time, Sharp added, but that’s not enough. What she has with Werthaiser is the product of much more than synchronized pedaling and pure leg power.
“From my experience with other drivers, I think the chemistry off the bike is so much more important,” said Sharp. “You help them on the bike, yes – you are their eyes and you are their engine that guides them through it. However, I will push so much harder for someone that there is mutual respect than for someone who is not a very nice person. And Wendy is an incredibly nice person.
Confidence is also vital, especially from the perspective of a driver, who wildly pumps his legs, whistles past traffic signs with reckless abandon, and leans around corners – all without the benefit of working photoreceptors. In Werthaiser’s case, the world looks like a painting by Claude Monet. Her central vision is largely gone, so she only relies on her remaining peripheral vision.
“You can kind of make things for what they are, but you can never fully develop them,” she said. “So for me, that’s the tricky part. Maybe I could see a large mass of something, but nothing says so – is it the shadow of a tree or is it the back of a pickup truck? “
In Werthaiser’s case, it’s usually not the back of another biker. She also has a victory at the 2019 National Track Championships under her belt and finished fourth in four different events in Peru at the 2019 Pan American Games. Now she is about to start training for the next big race, although she is not sure what it will be. That means around 100 miles of driving every weekend, waking up at 4 a.m., and the joy of stationary biking. She left.
“I don’t know what’s coming next,” Werthaiser said. “I know I will continue to train after taking a few weeks off here. And then, hopefully, by the start to the end of September, we’ll know what the next competition is.
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or [email protected]