For Jamie Whitmore And The U.S. Cycling Team, Parapan Ams Will Serve As Key Barometer Ahead Of Paris 2024
by Joanne C. Gerstner
In all the best ways, longtime U.S. Para-cycling standout Jamie Whitmore wants to make this the Parapan American Games she will remember. It’s her first time in Santiago, Chile, her second time at the Parapan Ams and a quiet kick-off for her run to reach at third Paralympic Games.
Whitmore, a two-time Paralympic medalist in the upright WC3 classification, will be racing in the track and road events, with competitions spread out Sunday to Sunday, Nov. 19-26. The native of Somerset, California, will be approaching her events with a bigger purpose for the future after recently making some significant changes to her setup, helping her be more efficient with energy on her bike.
“I’m really feeling good with everything with the setup. It took some time to play with it and for me to get used to it,” said Whitmore, a highly successful XTERRA triathlete prior to having her left leg amputated below the knee due to cancer. Her right leg is more powerful than her left, but adjusting the height of her left pedal block and some other tweaks have helped even out her power.
“I’m constantly trying to find the right feel, and that changes with how my body is feeling. I’ve been struggling with lower back issues, because of everything, for a while. But it’s good now. I really want to race hard and go for it. I want to see where I am.”
Whitmore’s first Parapan Ams experience was at the Parapan American Games Toronto 2015, and she describes it as “a mess.” The cycling competitions were open class back then, partially reflecting the depth of the field. There weren’t enough numbers to stage individual classes, so everybody was lumped together in one race. Unfortunately, it meant the cyclists with less restrictive impairments dominated, and others, such as Whitmore, were frustrated with their finishes.
“It was so hard to go through that, and I am so happy to see things have really evolved since then,” Whitmore said. “It speaks to where we are going as a Para community. We need more opportunities to be racing and competing within our classes for sure. It’s about fairness.”
Whitmore skipped the 2019 Parapan Ams in Lima, Peru, to avoid schedule congestion ahead of the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. This time, when she qualified for the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023, she was all in. She was happy that the structure of most Santiago races will have classes, avoiding the issues from eight years ago.
“There is a lot to do here, and I am always so grateful for the opportunities to be with Team USA, my teammates and coaches,” she said. “It’s something that is always special. We’re going to practice hard, working on getting better and, hopefully, come away with a lot of medals.”
The 15-member U.S. team for the Parapan Ams includes plenty of experience, with every member having competed in a world championships and 10 of them having earned a medal there. Team USA led all countries with 18 medals in Lima, including seven gold.
The Santiago races will serve as an important check on where she is versus top competition, Whitmore said, and also her form heading into the 2024 season kickoff in January.
She’s not sure how strong things will look on the track, as the last time she was racing on a velodrome was in Tokyo at the postponed Games in 2021.
At the 2023 world championships, which for the first time combined all the sport’s disciplines — able-bodied and Para — into a single event, Whitmore took fourth in the time trials and seventh in the road race.
“I really want to be in Paris, and I still think I’ve got it at my age, even though I am old,” said Whitmore, 47, with a small laugh. “I’m still getting it done out there. And as for the track, well, I guess I’m going to have to be a fast learner out there. It is what it is. I’m going to have to adjust quickly.”
She admitted this is likely her final time as a competitor at a Parapan Ams, and she wants to take everything in. Her husband and kids are along for the trip, and they want to see the Andes Mountains, Laguna del Inca and some of the other impressive sights around Santiago.
“We’ve been looking forward to sharing everything from this experience, because it is unique,” Whitmore said. “The atmosphere, getting to represent your country, getting to meet competitors representing their country, they’re all things that I don’t take for granted. They’re memories we’re making together.”