After a life-changing mind set shift and a switch from unhealthy lifestyle choices to being an everyday active go-getter, KwaZulu-Natal-born Double C5 National Para-cycling Champion Gavin Cowden (who lived and worked in the province before moving to Mpumalanga), is ready and roaring to go, and describes his feelings ahead of the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships in Pietermaritzburg from 31 August – 3 September.
Cowden will be attending his first World Championship event this year, and second international event after taking part in the UCI Para-Cycling Road World Cup in Pietermaritzburg last year. “It will be the first time competing against many of these guys,” he added.
Unhealthy lifestyle habits in the past lead to a dramatic shift in focus for Cowden, and after a back operation for herniated discs in his lower back (which were putting immense pressure on his sciatic nerve) in 2009, Cowden woke up to discover that he had suffered neuromuscular damage, commonly known as Drop Foot (damage to the sciatic nerve and the weakening of the muscles used to flex the foot). He then realised it was time to get active, and took up cycling to manage his weight and improve his quality of life.
Previously an avid mountain biker, Cowden has only been cycling on the road since late 2015 after he was classified for para-cycling. “It was a huge adjustment - I had to buy all new road cycling equipment in order to compete (i.e. road and time trial bicycles),” he said.
He then started competing in major road races in the Vets (40-49) Category. He competed as much as he could in order to get more and more experience on the road. He went on this year to win the Time Trial and Road Race in his C5 category at the 2017 SA Para-cycling Road National Championships in the Western Cape.
When chatting about sacrifices leading up to Worlds, Cowden said: “I didn't know I would be selected to compete at World Champs, but I am working to a three-year para-cycling plan to which I have committed, so everything in my life has pretty much revolved around it.
“This includes training, nutrition, and all the rest. So I have pretty much been training for this continuously since November 2015, but because I am fairly new to the sport I don't have the years in my legs like many of my competitors do.”
Cowden chatted about being about to compete in the World Championships in his own country: “It is an incredible privilege to line up next to the world’s best - Paralympic Champions, Former World Champions, etc. – all at my first World Championships. These guys are incredibly strong and so I’m expecting it to be my toughest race ever!
“For it to be hosted in South Africa, and in particular in my home province, will be even more special. A lot of my friends that I worked with at Cedara (some I have known since I started my working career in the bush in Zululand) will be there to cheer me on. They are totally dedicated and true friends - they stood in the pouring rain at the World Cup last year cheering me on.
Cowden’s parents (who witnessed him win his first South African National Championships in Wartburg and podium at the Para-cycling Road World Cup in Pietermaritzburg last year) will also be there to support him, which means it will be an extra-special event. “They are very supportive and proud of me, so if I win with them there, then nothing will be able to top that,” he added.
Cowden also added that he hopes to see the crowds supporting in their masses. “Para-cycling isn’t big in South Africa, but if you look at some of the international events, there are so may spectators. I just really hope the people of Pietermaritzburg come and support this fantastic event.”
Having never competed against many of the athletes on the start line, Cowden is going into the Champs with an open mind but strong will and determination. “I rode against Dorian Foulon (FRA) in the World Cup last year and he did very well in the World Cups in Europe leading up to this event. But I was a total rookie back then, so my expectations have grown with each race since. This is World Champs - obviously everyone lining up for this event is chasing the rainbow jersey and hoping to earn the prestigious title of World Champion,” he added.
Cycling South Africa’s Para-cycling Commission’s Estelle van der Merwe says that the team is full steam ahead and ready for the Championships. “All the riders are arriving from Monday 28th and then we have five riders up for review on Tuesday 29th,” she said.
Van der Merwe also mentioned riders such as Stuart McCreadie, who is in great form and has put in the hard yards of training, as well as Goldy Fuchs who took part in the World Cup in Ostend, Belgium earlier this year.
“We have only one Female Rider, Toni Mould, who struggled a little bit with her health the past few months, but we do believe that she will excel in her events in the T1 category,” said van der Merwe.
For more information about the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships, go to: https://www.cyclingsa.com/2017-uci-para-road-world-champs/
For more information about Para-cycling, please visit http://www.uci.ch/para-cycling/.