At 46, Putney’s Alicia Dana knows what it is like to get back on the bike—multiple times over. This past year, win after international win earned her enough points put her at the top of International Cycling Union Para-cycling road World Cup rankings. And for 2016, she’s set the bar even higher.
As a teenager, Dana started using a handcycle after a back injury left her paralyzed below the waist. In the 1990s she rode across the country, from Washington to Vermont, to raise funds for disability-related causes. By 2001 and 2002 she was competing internationally. But in 2003 she had a daughter and decided to take time off.
Ten years later, she was back cycling. At age 42, she decided to start racing again. Her description of that first race back: “I got creamed,” she says. “But I realized that’s where the bar was set and I wanted to get back up to the top.”
Her friends and neighbors helped out, raising about $10,000 to help buy a high-tech bike after Dana’s old bike was stolen and helping her attend a clinic at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado.
“At that clinic, I learned what it takes to get onto the team and what training really involves,” she says. “It gave me a real jump start and it got me motivated, focused and gave me some tools to work with.”
With renewed passion and her new ride, Dana returned to the international stage in 2012. She made the Paralympic team and traveled to London for the World Cup, placing fifth overall in the time trial. In 2014, she won the World Cup in Spain. And this past year, she won five gold medals out of a total of eight international World Cup competitions in Europe and South Africa for the title of overall World Cup winner.
Her World Cup season began in June in Switzerland, where she took third in a time trial, over a minute behind the winner, but won the road race. At Elzach, Germany, she took first place in both races, nearly two minutes ahead of the next-fastest racer. She took second at the Swiss Road World Championships in both the time trial and road race, trailing closely behind Italian Francesca Portacello. Dana wrapped up her season in the International Cycling Union Paracycling road World Cup circuit by claiming wins in her category in September’s finale in South Africa. Dana currently leads her category, 31 points ahead of Portacello.
“Things have been on an uphill swing,” she says, “and I’m looking forward to next season.” Dana has set her sights on the next Paralympic Games in Brazil in September 2016 and plans to train by competing in the men’s division in U.S. events throughout the south this winter. “I don’t get a lot of race experience until I’m at these top-level events in Europe,” she says. “So in these domestic races, I’ll really have to fight. It’s that kind of close contact, the surges, sprints and the drama that you don’t get when you’re on a trainer.”
Guys, watch out.