Para-Cycling’s Power Couple Brown, Middlestaedt Embark On A New Season
by Karen Price
Noah Middlestaedt and Clara Brown pose for a picture at the 2022 UCI Para-cycling World Championships on Aug. 14, 2022 in Baie-Comeau, Canada.
Life as a Para-cycling power couple means a lot of different things for Clara Brown and Noah Middlestaedt.
Each can fully understand and empathize with what the other’s going through, good or bad, in ways that people who aren’t elite athletes can’t. One can geek out over a new piece of gear and the other will know exactly what they’re talking about. And when they flew to Europe on Sunday for the first world cup road race of the season, they knew that Middlestaedt would have a bag of snacks while Brown would have a bag of games.
But some days it also means that there’s not a whole lot of sympathy after a long day’s work.
“It’s funny, sometimes we’ll both come home crushed from a ride and I’ll be like, ‘I don’t want to make dinner,’ and he’ll be like, ‘Well, I don’t either. I had a hard day, too!” said Brown, of Falmouth, Maine.
They looked at each other, smiling.
“(She’s like)’Oh, I’m so tired,’” Middlestaedt, a Minnesota native, said. “Yeah. We’re both doing it.”
Brown, a Paralympian and three-time world champ, and Middlestaedt, who is seeking his first Paralympic berth, have been together since 2019 when they met at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The couple, both 27, now lives in Maine with an energetic Labrador named Kyia, and recently opened the world cup road season along with their U.S. teammates in Maniago, Italy on April 20. While they’ve both got an eye on the Paralympic Games Paris 2024, for now they’re excited about the upcoming season, the idea of a world championships this summer that combines all disciplines and both able-bodied and Para-cyclists for the first time, and the chance to be out and racing again.
“We both made measurable offseason gains and did a little more lifting than typical,” Brown said. “And we had equipment upgrades, so we’re excited to see how they play out and affect our performances.”
A typical day at home for Brown and Middlestaedt usually starts around 7 a.m. Middlestaedt makes the coffee — “I’m pretty sure I promised you that in the beginning,” he said to her — and then they’re on the bike by 10 a.m. after a big breakfast. Sometimes that lasts for an hour, sometimes four. Sometimes they’ll ride side-by-side on the trainers set up in their basement, sometimes not.
“We put off a lot of heat so it’s really warm if we try to do intensity next to each other,” Brown said. “But if we’re just doing endurance we’ll be down there together.”
The two also bike for fun, as evidenced by their social media accounts showing them on fat bikes in the snow this winter. Their days also include some weightlifting and/or physical therapy or treatment, and an hour or so exercising the dog. Noah’s the bike mechanic of the two, so he’ll often spend some time doing some maintenance for the both of them, while Brown is the organizer around the house.
“So I like to keep things in order,” she said.
Noah Middlestaedt and Clara Brown share a moment at the 2022 UCI Para-cycling World Championships on Aug. 14, 2022 in Baie-Comeau, Canada.
In addition to being teammates and a couple, Middlestaedt is also Brown’s coach. While that could be a complicated dynamic for some, Middlestaedt and Brown have it dialed in.
“It’s a really easy conversation because we both know what she’s working toward that day and it’s that day-to-day input that’s good for questions like, ‘Can I go a little longer today,’ or, ‘Why am I doing these efforts,’” Middlestaedt said. “There’s a lot of back-and-forth, and that’s made it a very productive relationship in that aspect.”
Added Brown, “Especially any time I’m not at my best is when I really appreciate it because we can be very flexible together. It’s hard to hide from someone you’re living with how you’re feeling.”
Brown said communication was something she struggled with in the past with other coaches. She never wanted it to seem like she wasn’t working hard enough, and now with Middlestaedt there’s no risk of that happening.
“And also because you are that person who doesn’t want to be seen as not working hard, sometimes I have to rein you back, quite often,” Middlestaedt said. “Like maybe this isn’t so productive, or don’t puke at the end of these intervals. You know?”
Brown, who suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury during gymnastics practice at the age of 12 and is a walking quadriplegic, made her Paralympic debut in Tokyo and finished fourth in the individual pursuit, fifth in the time trial and sixth in the road race. Middlestaedt, who has cerebral palsy, is looking to make his Paralympic debut in Paris in 2024. Another benefit to being a Para-cycling power couple is getting to regularly watch one another compete and knowing that the other is always going to be proud of the effort they put in no matter the result.
While their disabilities aren’t the same, Brown said, they do share similar limitations and a deep understanding of what each other is going through physically.
Not to mention a deep love of being on a bicycle.
“We both get a lot of the same things out of the bike,” she said. “We both have the sense that it’s an equalizer for our disability and it’s a time where we feel the most capable and strong and proud of what our bodies are able to do. And just enjoying being outside and riding bikes.
“It’s awesome to be able to go on an adventure ride or even a training ride together. And to both have the intrinsic motivation and empathy when training doesn’t go well, or excitement when it is going well. We’re able to really have context for each others’ journeys.”