South African para-cyclist Toni Mould has not had the year she had hoped for in the lead-up to her first UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships, but is positive about the improvements she has seen.
Mould, who was born with cerebral palsy, will compete in the T1 category in the 15km time-trial and 24km road race at the championships in Pietermaritzburg in SA from August 31.
T1 is a tricycling category that refers to those with the most severe loss of coordination or muscle power.
“It’s been hard preparing because I’ve had no racing experience except for in 2015,” said Mould, who represented her country at the 2015 and 2016 Para-cycling World Cups.
After not being selected for this year’s World Cups, she said her last real competition was at the world championships two years ago shortly after she started para-cycling.
“Then, because I was still new to the sport and learning my trike, I was more focused on my own race than chasing the other riders.
“The following year was an Olympic year so very few competitors came out to South Africa, so again I was racing alone.”
The 33-year-old puts in between four and five training sessions per week – two with students from Stellenbosch University’s sport science faculty and one with a friend – and noted that she had seen a definite improvement in her times.
“I keep up to date with results from competitors overseas and my speeds are not where theirs are yet, but I am seeing slow improvement. I have definitely seen an increase in my speed this year.”
The Stellenbosch resident, who grew up in Plettenberg Bay, said her two areas of focus were descents and general strength.
“I struggle with downhills because of the coordination effort required. So I’ve been working on getting faster there and also getting my legs stronger for the uphills.”
She said it took great effort to balance herself on the bike and it was therefore important to adopt a holistic approach to ensure the greatest control possible.
Realistically, she said she did not expect a medal from her two events, but it would not be for a lack of trying.
“The distances we race may sound small to the able-bodied cyclist but for us it’s quite a long distance.
“This year I just want to ride well. A medal may be a bit unrealistic but I’ll give it a bash,” she said. “A personal best would be amazing.”
Mould explained her condition was one that affected all aspects of her movement and although it was non-progressive, her body was under a great deal of strain.
“It affects all my muscles, my speech, coordination and balance. Some people also have mental disabilities, but I’m one of the blessed ones not to.”
The challenges associated with her condition, said Mould, was a lot and ranged from making a sandwich (which she explained was a 15-minute task) to putting on her helmet to battling chronic fatigue.
However, the cheery woman remained undaunted and said it was an honour to have been selected to once again represent her country.
The four-day event takes place in South Africa for the first time and will be streamed live.