Toni driven to reach greater heights

Photo credit: Fabio Passador (Maniago, Italy)

In her short five-year racing career, Toni Mould has already experienced two UCI World Championships and a few UCI World Cups. Having three years of UCI status events in South Africa has provided an immense opportunity to compete against the best in the world on home soil, finishing as the UCI World Cup Series Winner in 2016 and culminating with the 2017 UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships where Toni was awarded a silver medal in the road race.

Toni’s first experience of cycling was in 2013 when, after being encouraged to join by a friend, she attended the league race in Stellenbosch which was then run by Mike and Karin Burns and their team. They established that she needed a lighter trike and she was introduced to JC van der Walt who was also helping out at the league races.

From there, Toni competed in her first National Championships in February 2015 and amazingly, in her first UCI World Cup in September that same year. Since then, she claims that her biggest achievement is a tough choice between her road race at last year’s UCI World Championships in Pietermaritzburg and this year’s UCI World Championships Time Trial race in Italy.

“Last year’s road race was a tough race as I was almost knocked off my bike twice during that race, but I ended up getting a silver medal,” says Toni. “Standing on the UCI World Champs podium is always special but to do it on home soil, in front of friends and mentors, will always stay with me.

“This years’ Time Trial was a huge achievement for me. It was my first race on foreign soil, it was the first time I had someone on my level to race against (the other two competitors in previous years were just too fast for me even to stay in touch with) and I am really happy with how I handled my trike during the race.”

Toni had an additional battle on her hands as over the past year she has experienced deterioration in her back and has battled with severe back pain, limiting even simple daily activities. “A few months ago, I was really afraid that I would have to stop cycling so by the time I was sitting on the start line in Italy, I had already won in a big way! I think both races would be my biggest cycling achievements.”

Her activities have seen her acknowledged and nominated for several awards, including the Cape Winelands Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability which we won this year; the G-Sport Awards; and the Western Cape Provincial Sport Awards due to her silver medal at the 2017 UCI World Championships and 2018 National Championship titles. She has previously received the Chief Director’s Merit Awards at Maties club because of her representing South Africa on international level and was also a nominee for Sportswoman of the Year with a Disability at last year’s South African Sports Awards.

After what has been a challenging year, Toni is making the most of her “rest” period now to recover fully as she is looking ahead to compete in National Road Championships once again in February. After that, she intends to participate in the SASAPD National Championships for Physically Disabled in March and has at least two international competitions in her sights, but that will be heavily dependent on whether she can secure vital sponsorships to go.

Toni shared the challenges that she faces, races and preparations, and upcoming goals in our interview.

[CSA] How do you typically prepare for competitions?

[TM] Due to a lack of resources available to me, I use past experiences and past mistakes to prepare for races. I usually take some time during my training break (Aug/Sept/Oct) to plan the training for the next season. Over the last four years I have learnt that training for me specifically may look different to abled-bodied cyclists or even other Para-cyclists. Due to the fact that I am not a full-time cyclist, have a job, live alone which takes a lot of energy, and have a disability which already takes a lot out of my body, I have learnt that balancing my training and general life is a fine balancing act. I train at home on an indoor trainer, at the gym, and on the road. I train between three to five days a week depending on my load and my fatigue levels that week. I have also learnt that sometimes more rest before a race benefits me more than an extra training session.

[CSA] Faith plays a major role in your motivation each day. How else do you keep motivated for work and play?

[TM] I believe in advancing and improving the lives of people with disabilities. I believe that what I do and how I do certain things can open doors for other people with disabilities that come after me. If I can break down stereotypes and change the perceptions of people with disabilities, their lives can be better and, in some respects, less painful than my road has been.

[CSA] Competing at top level is challenging for everyone and stretches all athletes to their absolute maximum potential. Even more so for athletes living with disabilities where the challenges seem exacerbated.

[TM] I understand that the self-funding policy in sport is affecting many sports and that it is not just in para sport. However, I do think it is having a larger impact in para sport for a number of reasons. Firstly, many para athletes are not full-time athletes because we do not earn an income from our sport and thus have to earn a living. To earn a living to cover daily expenses, train and compete on a national or international level, and then to raise additional funding to train, travel and compete is just too much. Secondly, our publicity is limited compared to our abled bodied counterparts so getting corporate sponsors is near impossible. Thirdly, some of us, due to the severity of our disability, need to take an assistant with us to assist us with even the simplest tasks such as eating and dressing. So that means we are paying for two people and expenses are double.

[CSA] What about the logistical challenges?

[TM] Having no structural support at big events, like a team manager, soigneur or mechanic for a Para-cycling team has its unique challenges. Some athletes cannot drive themselves to and from races, some need help into/on and out/off bikes, some have trouble of overheating on the course so we need water thrown on us during a race because we can’t do it for ourselves, we can’t move or fix our own bikes, some athletes have speech disabilities so we need help communicating with officials, and the list just continues.

Para athletes need extra support when on a tour and at the moment we are just not getting it. Unfortunately, I would say the future looks bleak for para-cycling unless the necessary support and funding can be sourced.

[CSA] How has sport changed your life?

[TM] Taking part in sport has indeed changed by life for the better. For me it is a life-long dream to be representing my country in international sport. So, I guess it has filled a void in my life. It has obviously had a positive effect on my physical health and I am stronger and healthier now than I was before I started cycling. But for me the biggest effect has been on my mental health. Being active, healthy, spending time outdoors, and being with like-minded individuals has had a huge effect on my mental health and has helped me tremendously cope with a very challenging life.

[CSA] What is your advice to other differently abled people on how sport can change their lives?

[TM] I would recommend that all people, regardless of ability, lead an active life. For differently abled people, I would say it is essential to be active within your capabilities. There are numerous well-documented benefits such as lowering blood pressure, losing excessive weight, and a healthier mental state. But for us who struggle with our physical abilities there are additional benefits such as increased blood circulation, increased appetite, reduction in spasticity, improved sleep, greater socialisation, and so much more. If you have no interest in competitive sport, that’s fine, just find a way to be active within your interest sphere and stay healthy.