Local cyclist looks to defend paralympic gold medals

Christine Frietchen/Special to the Times
Paralympic gold medalist Shawn Morelli of Leavenworth will be competing in the Tokyo Paralympic Games next week.

Cheer on hometown Olympian Shawn Morelli next week in her quest for gold. She will be competing starting Tuesday in the Tokyo Paralympic Games where she hopes to medal in the 3-kilometer Individual Pursuit and the 500-meter Time Trial. 

“Those are both events I really enjoy,” said Morelli, who won gold in those same events at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.

Morelli, 45, had planned to make the 2020 Olympics her swan song before retiring from competitive cycling. By now she had planned to be traveling the country in an RV with her husband, Army Lt. Col. Carl Dick. But the coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold when the Summer Olympics were pushed back a year, and Morelli adjusted her training plans around Tokyo. 

A veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the war in Afghanistan, Morelli was severely injured in a 2007 IED attack. She discovered cycling in 2010, and has been an unstoppable force ever since, with 16 world championship medals (12 of which are gold) and a women’s C4 pursuit world record at the 2016 UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships. 

Does she let the pressure of defending Olympic gold get to her? 

“Somebody asked me recently why I am not stressed about this, and I said the only stress I have in a race is making sure I can clip in and not miss the start. Stress – real stress – is rolling into combat with 100 of other people’s children when you are responsible for their lives and well-being.”

Morelli is a fixture on the Kansas cycling scene, frequently joining other local cyclists on group rides from the Santa Fe Trails Bike Shop in downtown Leavenworth.

“Leavenworth is my adopted home, and I love living and training in this area,” said Morelli, once again a proud member of Team USA.

Santa Fe Trails plans a watch party on Tuesday to cheer Morelli from afar. Call the shop for details at 913-682-2444.

Tokyo para-cycling events start Tuesday at 9 p.m. CDT, airing on cable on the NBC Sports Network and the Olympic Channel, and livestreaming on the NBC Sports App and Peacock streaming service.