Midale’s Keely Shaw aims for Paralympics

It hasn’t taken long for Midale’s Keely Shaw to establish herself as a star in the world of para-cycling.

Her latest major competition was the Union Cycliste Internationale 2019 Para Cycling Road World Championships in Emmen, The Netherlands, from Sept. 12-15. Shaw represented Canada in two events in the C4 classification.

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In the time trial, held Sept. 12, Shaw posted a time of 32 minutes and 35.30 seconds, which earned her a fourth place finish.

“I really had my heart set on a bronze medal, so it was pretty heartbreaking to miss that by 11 seconds,” said Shaw, the daughter of Carol and Greg Toles. “On that course, that’s really two extra pedal strokes going into each corner. There’s definitely some frustration there, but we know what to work on.”

Her power output was where Shaw needed it to be, so now it’s her bike driving skills and the technical work that she needs to focus on in the next 11 months leading up to the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo – an event she hopes to compete at.

“Although it was really frustrating to miss my podium there in the time trial, there’s definitely still a lot of good things that came out of it.”

She also competed in the road race, where she managed a seventh place finish in the 65-kilometre competition. She didn’t enter with a lot of expectations, as she is still building her skills as a road racer, so a top-10 finish was satisfactory.

“The bike actually worked really well. I had some issues with my braking system on my bike when we got to Holland, but by the luck of the draw I ended up bringing a spare braking system, so the mechanic was able to switch it up and have it ready to roll for race day,” she said.

Earlier this year, she won silver at the para-cycling track worlds, which were also held in the Netherlands.

Shaw came to the world of para-cycling fairly recently. Growing up on a farm, her cycling extended to what most kids would do. Hockey was her sport, and she rose through the ranks of the different divisions. She also competed in volleyball, badminton and motocross, and dabbled in cross-country, track and field, soccer and baseball. 

But she suffered a serious brain injury in a horse riding accident when she was a teen, which seemingly dashed her sporting aspirations.

“I was approached one day working out at the gym at the University of Saskatchewan here, and it was a classmate of mine who said ‘I’ve heard your story.”

That classmate was a wheelchair basketball player who saw how Shaw moves and works out, and thought Shaw might be eligible for para-sports.

“So I went with her to see her sport scientist here in Saskatoon, and she said ‘You’re definitely classifiable. You just need to pick a sport that you want to pursue.”

Shaw started with cross-country skiing because it was winter and there was a good coach in the area. But it wasn’t a fit, and she didn’t enjoy the cold while she was competing.

So she shifted her attention to cycling, since she had been riding a bike to commute back and forth from home to work and school.

Shaw bought a proper road bike for herself as a gift when she finished her undergraduate studies in June 2016. She entered her first road race in Moose Jaw in May 2017, and reached out to the Canadian Paralympic Committee to tell them about her brain injury and her love of cycling.

They put her in touch with a coach from Cycling Canada. He invited her to a training camp in Quebec in July 2017. The following month she hit the podium twice at nationals, and the following year she was at the world championships.

“At this time last year, 20 kilometres was a really big ride for me,” she said.

Now her focus is getting ready for the 2020 Paralympics. The only direct path to the Games is to win a world championship, so she doesn’t have a guaranteed spot. She’ll find out next year if she cracks the team.

“I’m going to keep working to progress. I know where I’m at relative to the other countries, and now I know what I need to work on, so we’re just going to play it by ear put my trust in the training and focus on Tokyo.”

A few events will happen between now and then, including return trips to the para-cycling world championships in track and road racing, along with World Cup events.

When she won’t be getting ready for the Paralympics, she will be finishing her master’s degree at the University of Saskatchewan in kinesiology. She is finishing her edits on her thesis statement on the impact of dark chocolate on cycling at high altitudes, and hopes to have it wrapped up before Christmas.

“And then in January I will be starting my PhD, also in kinesiology, because there’s nothing like starting your PhD the same year you hope to go to the Paralympic Games,” said Shaw.

She credits her support system at the university for allowing her to tackle such an ambitious schedule.

“I’ve already told my supervisor that my involvement in typical school stuff in this first year is going to be pretty minimal because there are my goals and this is what I’m doing. My supervisor is super supportive and everybody on campus is super supportive of me.”

She is also fortunate to have people on the sports side who understand when she needs to duck out five minutes early to attend a class via Skype.

It’s a juggling act, but she wants to be at the Paralympics – the pinnacle of her sport that happens every four years and features the best in the world.