She had just finished a training ski the night before the 2008 World Cup finale in Norway when Monica Bascio was transferring into the team van. The Evergreen resident, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a 2002 skiing accident near Lake Tahoe severed her spinal cord, slipped and broke her tibia and fibula.
Her dream of competing in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games were dashed. The hopes of even making a handcycling comeback for the 2012 London Paralympic Games were uncertain.
“I thought it was possible, but I wasn’t really setting my sights on it,” Bascio said. “If it happened it happened. If it didn’t that would be fine, too.”
Oh, how things have changed in four years.
The three-time world champion and Ridgewood, N.J., native rededicated herself to handcycling the past two years after contemplating retirement. The result was a world title in 2011, which qualified her for her third Paralympic Games — her first in the Summer Games.
A two-time Winter Games participant, Bascio will compete Sept. 5-8 at the London Games. This year’s handcycling events are scheduled for Brands Hatch, a former Formula One Grand Prix course located in Kent, approximately a half-hour south of London.
“It’s great. It’s particularly special for me. I started in sports with cycling. I have great love for it both recreationally and in competition,” the 42-year-old said. “To compete at the elite level is sort of the pinnacle. It’s a second career. It’s particularly meaningful to be going to the Summer Games in cycling.”
It didn’t hurt that Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) — the governing body of professional cycling — reclassified the level of competition into four classes — H1 to H4 — in 2010. It played a motivating factor for Bascio, said her husband and executive director for U.S. Handcycling Ian Lawless, especially after she looked at the world championship results that year and knew immediately that she could compete.
“The nature of the disability can never truly be equalized,” said Bascio, who is in the H3 class, which caters to athletes who have no or limited lower limb functions. “Way back you were competing against everybody altogether. People with a higher level of disability than me were competiting and I was competiting against people with a lower level than me. Divvying up the classifications makes it truly as competitive as much as it can be. It’s certainly motivating.”
Bascio took a tour of the course last week. Just that in itself piqued her interest for the Games.
“It was truly amazing. There was such a buzz in the hotel,” Bascio said. “There was just an electric energy to get on the course. It was a special opportunity to have that preview. It’s a hard course, harder than I thought it was going to be. Everybody will certainly be going home and upping the training, upping their game to be there at 110 percent.”
That includes Bascio. That’s what she did two years ago when it became apparent that she could compete at the Olympic level for this year’s Games.
“For her I personally think she gets pretty antsy if she doesn’t have something to focus on and train for,” Lawless said. “Although she’s a pretty good cross country skier for whatever reason she performs better in handcycling.”
Bascio proved that in 2011. With just one year of training she basically won everything at the international level, Lawless said.
The 15-time US handcycling champion won the UCI Paracycling time trial and road race world championships and was the World Cup overall winner. She’s been ranked the No. 1 handcyclist in the world, firmly placing a target on her back entering the Summer Games.
“It’s a different position than she’s ever been in. It’s a different kind of pressure than she’s ever had,” Lawless said. “It’s definitely motivating her as far as being on top and staying on top. In some ways it’s a little more stressful. Whereas when you’re not the favorite you can kind of come in under the radar. She has to be in a sense way better prepared than everybody else. She’s got that target.”
But as long as she’s still competitive and still winning, Monica Bascio will be motivated.