Growing up in little ol’ Arcata, cyclist Hannah Chadwick never dreamed that she would one day be competing in the UCI Para-Cycling World Championships, let alone that she and her cycling partner would bring home a bronze medal.
“Honestly, I’m feeling a lot of emotions,” Chadwick told the Outpost, after placing third in the women’s sprint at the championships in Glasgow, Scotland last week. “I’m feeling incredibly proud of our performance. … We were able to hit several personal bests, and the bronze medal was the cherry on top!”
In case you’re not familiar with para-cycling, it’s a sport adapted for cyclists with various disabilities. As a blind rider, Chadwick races on the rear seat of a tandem bicycle, with her sighted pilot, Skylar Espinoza, seated at the front. Chadwick and Espinoza’s medal is especially impressive, considering that the two have only been training together for a few months, it was their first time at the world championships and it was their very first sprint race together.
Blind since birth, Chadwick was adopted from an orphanage in China at the age of 12 by her parents, Patricia Chadwick and Stephen Dias, who lived in Arcata at the time. Patricia told the Outpost that Hannah had not received any formal education before she was adopted, and after coming to Arcata Chadwick entered her first school, Bloomfield Elementary.
“She started out at Bloomfield and spent most of the time catching up and learning braille with an aid,” Patricia told the Outpost in a recent interview. “She’s very smart, so she caught up quickly and then went to Sunny Brae [Middle School] for sixth grade.”
After Sunny Brae, Chadwick changed over to Coastal Grove Charter School and then attended Arcata High School, where she graduated in 2011. After taking a year off to travel and do some volunteer work in China, she attended UC Davis and graduated in 2016 with a double major in international relations and Chinese. Chadwick said she was always interested in sports and fitness but spent most of her younger years in Humboldt focusing on school, trying to get good grades and get into a good college. After graduating from Davis, Chadwick was looking for a new challenge.
“I actually found tandem racing by accident,” Chadwick said. “One day I was sitting on the couch working … and I saw this ‘learning to race camp’ at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I was so excited that I didn’t even read the flier, I just applied … I think I was the last person to get in before applications closed.”
After completing the camp in May of 2019, Chadwick was invited to attend another camp focused specifically on track racing in late 2019. She started working with a coach at the beginning of 2020 and when the pandemic hit, Chadwick said, she took lockdown as an opportunity to focus even more on her fitness and training and has been racing ever since.
Chadwick had previously been working with a different pilot, who decided to pursue other opportunities at the beginning of this year. So Chadwick had to find another pilot if she was going to continue competing at the elite level. Chadwick knew of Espinoza through one of her coaches and asked about her, and the two were connected in early February. In late February, Espinoza came to Colorado Springs, where Chadwick now lives, for a trial and the two hit it off.
They went to a training camp together for one week in March, another training for three weeks in May, and another three weeks leading up to the world championships.
Most of Chadwick and Espinoza’s training was done separately though, Chadwick said, and when she is training without a pilot she does most of her training indoors and does have to “get creative with certain exercises,” because of being blind. But mostly Chadwick doesn’t do anything different for training because of her disability, she said, adding that she goes to the gym at least three times per week and is on her bike almost every day. In addition to her training, she also works on her recovery, including sleeping, eating and soft tissue work, which is “just as important” as training, she said.
After coming home from Scotland last week, Chadwick took a few days to rest, but then got right back to her training, she said. If all goes well, Chadwick and Espinoza hope to go to the Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile this November, and to next year’s World Championships, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in March. The team’s ultimate goal, of course, is to go to the Paralympics and Chadwick said she is hopeful that they will qualify for the summer games in 2024. But if not, she feels confident that they could train hard enough to qualify for the next Summer Paralympics in 2028.
Though Chadwick no longer resides in Humboldt, she wanted to say how grateful she is for the time she spent here and wanted to thank all of the family, friends and educators that helped encourage her to pursue anything she set her mind to.
“Growing up in Humboldt County taught me the importance of how to create and maintain a support network,” she said. “I’m so grateful to everyone that encouraged me along the way. I was given many opportunities, and I’m so thankful to be a part of the community.”