Without Competition, Para-Cyclist Samantha Bosco Faced Off With A New Rival: Herself
by Santosh Venkataraman
Samantha Bosco competes in the women's C5 3000m individual pursuit track cycling on day 1 of the Paralympic Games Rio 2016 at the Olympic Velodrome on Sept. 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
When you can’t compete against your fellow athletes, you have to compete with yourself.
That’s been the driving philosophy for Para-cyclist Samantha Bosco as she gets ready for the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials later this month in Minneapolis and, she hopes, her second Paralympics in Tokyo.
The native of Upland, California, has been forced to train more on the road and less on the track, something that her fellow competitors are also going through, and has kept the focus on her own improvement heading into this intense stretch.
“Because I’m super competitive, I feel like I’m at a point in my career and really in my life that I’m assessing how I’m doing compared to past performances of myself and I feel like it’s so up in the air as far as what everybody else is doing as far as not having races against people in a while,” Bosco said. “It’s really the only way that I can go about my training, is to focus on where do I stack up against me from a month ago, me from three months ago. And what can I do to make sure that me a month from now is better than me today?”
Bosco won bronze in the both the road time trial and track pursuit in the Paralympics Games Rio 2016. She was poised for a big 2020 after opening the year with silver and bronze medals at the track world championships, with the road world championships on tap ahead of Tokyo.
All of that changed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, giving her a chance to take some time off from her usual hard training.
“I was just kind of going with the flow and seeing what would happen,” she said. “I had fitness going into the announcement of the postponement that I didn’t want to lose, but I also didn’t want to push myself too much so that I felt burned out and didn’t train as effective leading up to this year’s Games. It’s just pretty much juggling, maintaining what I had and not burning out from riding from my bike, which is why I kind of took a break from my training program and just rode for fun.”
Bear in mind that Bosco was never going to put away her bike for any period of time, given that it’s quite simply her favorite thing to do. But she estimated she did spend about six or seven months riding solely for the pleasure of it, joking that she grew to enjoy 100-mile bike rides with her cycling friends and Andrew, her husband and a fellow cyclist.
Bosco felt she gained in two major areas during this hiatus of sorts, both on the bike and off of it.
“On a bike [I’ve been] riding on a program called Zwift, which is basically a virtual training and racing program so I got to feed that competitive side of myself and really have that interaction riding with people virtually and just make it feel like I wasn’t by myself during the pandemic,” she said. “I also practiced more mindfulness, more time to dedicate to myself and my self-care, so I spent a lot of focus on that as well.”
The U.S. Paralympic Team Trials, which also include swimming and track & field, run from June 17-20, with the Paralympics opening just over two months later on Aug. 24. The quick turnaround has given Bosco the mind-set of training hard all the way through this time period with so little time to rest and gear up again.
“You have to perform well at trials, yes, but you also have to be on a forward trajectory for the Games, and it’s so close together that it’s kind of hard to have a really good time at trials and take a break and have a really good Tokyo,” Bosco said. “This is a really important race for me, and I am really training for it but in the long run I am really training for Tokyo. So for me it’s like trials is an important race, but also a race to see where I’m at in my own fitness.”
The 34-year-old Bosco is hopeful that the Tokyo Games will not be her last Paralympics experience. She called her experience in Brazil “extraordinary,” and it has clearly left her hungry for more.
“I didn’t really know what to expect going to a Games, and I just kind of soaked in every moment and it was something that I still can’t put into words because it was just amazing,” she said. “I knew that I had that feeling, I knew I wanted more and getting two bronze medals in Rio was kind of icing on the cake for me.
“As an elite athlete you are always striving for more, you’re never quite satisfied, so for me I want to go to Tokyo and I want to get some medals and I want them to be higher than bronze. It would be nice to get a gold medal at a Paralympics Games, hopefully that’s Tokyo.”