Women’s H2 Handcycling World Champion and World Cup gold medallist, Justine Asher, is looking forward to competing on home soil and acknowledges the significance of Africa hosting a Para-cycling World Cup. The 44-year-old mother of two chats about balancing work, home, play, and sport, and the importance of family. She says: ‘I am rushing around all the time. It’s moving and keeping busy that makes me happy. Then I have my moments when I just need to breathe and zone out and those moments I enjoy and appreciate, as they are very rare. I love my family and my sport, but like everyone I have to work, shop, cook and find some time to relax. I have a really good routine to balance everything out, sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed, but I have a great support base to turn to. My family will always be there for me when I need them and my daughters, now that they are teenagers, are becoming a lot more independent. My husband has the amazing ability of keeping me grounded so that I don’t get too carried away and he has also taught me how to manage my diary and time efficiently, which has been a lifesaver.’
Asher believes that the hosting of the World Cup in South Africa will provide the sport some great exposure. Newer riders have the opportunity to compete in a world-class event as well as realise the targets that need to be achieved when racing against the world’s best athletes. She says: ‘In Para-cycling, an athlete is only able to earn one set of points from their best performance on any continent. The South African World Cup is an opportunity to earn another set of points if they have already competed in Europe, thereby doubling their qualification points for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio.’ Before she started hand cycling in 2013, Asher swam 2km daily at the gym to keep fit and was always an active person prior to her accident 26 years ago, which left her a quadriplegic.
Asher left words of advice to aspiring athletes who are eager to start competing professionally: ‘Find a sport or hobby that you are passionate about – something that gives you the opportunity to explore yourself and your capabilities. You will be surprised when you realise your potential when you give something your best. Always strive to be a better version of yourself and eventually before you know it, you will soar on wings like eagles.’ Also a relative newcomer to Para-cycling is British journalist, Sally Hurst (C2), who lost her leg to Osteosarcoma in 2005. Hurst began the sport in 2012 at the age of 35, and has enjoyed every minute of it, despite the challenges.
Hurst will be arriving in South Africa with the Great Britain cycling team to compete in the Para World Cup in Pietermaritzburg. She says: ‘I’ve never been to South Africa before so I’m really looking forward to training and racing there, and experiencing a different part of the world. The other three rounds of the Para-cycling World Cup this year have been in Europe, so it’s great to see Africa hosting a big event like this. Back in July, I enjoyed watching the first African team – Team MTN-Qhubeka – compete in the Tour de France and it’s brilliant to see the popularity of cycling increasing. I’m really pleased that now Para-cyclists are getting the chance to show their skills and athleticism on a global stage too.’ Like Asher, Hurst is also a mother and shares many views on the busyness of family life and professional sport.
She says: ‘Combining work and training with looking after two children is definitely a juggling act. I have to be very organised and often fit in training in the early morning or evening whilst the kids are in bed. Being away at competitions or training camps can be difficult but I think in the end it’s worth it – hopefully I’m showing my children that my disability is not a barrier to a fit and active lifestyle and that it’s important to put hard work into something you want to be successful at. Ultimately I do it because I love the sport. But it definitely helps that I have a very understanding husband!’ The 2015 UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup – Pietermaritzburg (11-13 September 2015) will have two competition venues with the time trial competition being staged in the Midmar Dam complex on Friday 11 September and the road races in the city of Pietermaritzburg using Alexandra Park as the official competition venue on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 September.
For more information, visit: http://www.cyclingsa.com/2015-uci-para-road-world-cup/
Photo credit: Craig Dutton/pics2go.co.za