SA cyclist Toni Mould reflects on her Paralympic Games journey

Toni Mould was one of the 34 athletes chosen to represent South Africa at the recent Tokyo Paralympics and she was one of the three para-cyclists and the only female cyclist to represent South Africa at the Games.

Cycling SA's Elrick Kulsen giving Toni Mould a few pointers at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Photo: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - “I was so excited, relieved and shed a few happy tears! I had been actively chasing this dream for five years but in reality, it had been a lot longer.

"I received a prophecy from God when I was about 13 years that one day I would go to the Paralympics, and now 24 years later, it was happening. I was also relieved that the hard work and sacrifices had paid off."

Toni Mould was one of the 34 athletes chosen to represent South Africa at the recent Tokyo Paralympics and she was one of the three para-cyclists and the only female cyclist to represent South Africa at the Games.

READ: Team SA names 34 para-athletes for Tokyo Paralympic Games

"Officially I found out by receiving an email from Cycling South Africa on 12 July. We were asked not to reveal the news widely. My nearest and dearest knew and those I needed to involve in my preparations, but otherwise we had to wait until the official team announcement was made a week before we left."

Mould has cerebral palsy (CP) caused by complications during her birth. This affects her balance, speech, and motor skills and she therefore uses a tricycle to compete in cycling competitions.

The Paralympian said that she had no doubt that she would be chosen for the Games as she was the only female cyclist who had taken part in all the qualification competitions over the years, competing in Italy, Belgium and Netherlands as well as other competitions.

"Before I received the email I was confident that I was going to be chosen because South Africa had one slot for a female cyclist, and I was the only female cyclist that had competed in all the qualification competitions - but one is never sure until the official communication arrives."

Para-cyclists in South Africa are self-funded over the years building up to the Games: they have to pay their way to competitions, find their own coaches and meet all their other sporting needs by paying out of their own pocket or through fund-raising campaigns.

Ahead of the Paralympic Games, Mould was lucky to be assisted with her training by Australian Paralympic gold medallist Carol Cooke.

The 60-year-old Cooke, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) at age 37, coached Mould ahead of the Paralympics even though they would be competing against each other in the road race at the event.

"During the preparation phase, I didn’t receive much official support from South Africa. A friend and fellow trike racer from Australia, Carol Cooke, took over as my coach from the end of May, up until the Paralympics. I had been doing all my own coaching since I started in 2013, so having someone who knew more about coaching and cycling than I do to organise my training was great."

Mould also had her family, friends and network helping her prepare for the Paralympics with the admin and executing the training schedule sent to her by Cooke.

"My mother came to stay with me for 3 weeks in July to help me with my admin and getting things ready for the trip. Due to the fact that I cannot drive and that roads in South Africa are generally unsafe for cyclists, and more so for para-cyclists, I really struggle to get in enough road training.

"In the last few weeks, friends really rallied around to enable me to get out on the road on my tricycle, more often. They also assisted me in the last two weeks, when I was isolating for the trip, by bringing me groceries, cooked meals, and helping me with transport to COVID testing and so on.

"My employer was also very gracious in assisting in my preparations and cycling pursuits by giving me a month off before we left, and that allowed me to really focus on my final preparations".

Mould did not medal at the Paralympics, but but she explained that was not the goal: she had been hoping for a top 10 finish and a chance to better her times and improve her performance on a world stage.

"I am satisfied with my results. Realistically a medal was not on the cards for me due to my class (T1) having to compete against the more able-bodied (T2’s) for the same medals, as there are not enough T1 female riders to have our own race. My goal was to make the team, go to Tokyo, and then take it from there. Before the Games I wasn’t sure how many competitors from both classes would be in my races. I thought a top 10 would be really cool. I finished 10th in my time trial and 8th in the road race, so I guess I achieved my goal.

"I would really like to thank SASCOC, the SA Lottery and their partners for the support during the Games as this trip would not have been possible for me without them.

"I think I am still processing the whole trip and perhaps as I digest everything more ‘lessons’ will come to me. For now, my takeaways are that I am still improving, and I want to see how much more I can do. I was also reminded of how important regular competitions against the best athletes are."

Like most athletes, it's back to the drawing board and time to start training for the next Paralympic Games, which means Mould needs to start raising funds to work on securing sponsors and possibly get a coach based nearby.

"Cycling wise it will be like starting all over again. Trying to find a new goal, get a coach to work with me again (if I can get funding to afford a coach), and get sponsors to back my journey. Paris 2024 is only 3 years from now and as enticing as that would be, it is still a long way off and the road is very uncertain. My immediate aim, after a short break from training, would be SA Road Champs early next year. From there, who knows? A lot of my goals for the next 3 years would depend on if I can find sponsors to support me".

READ MORE: Tokyo Paralympics: Team SA's classifications explained

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