Tristen Chernove has officially cycled his way to the Paralympics this summer.
Fresh off a double-gold performance in Individual Pursuit and the 1,000-metre Time Trial at the 2016 Para-Cycling Track World Championships in Italy, the results have automatically qualified him for a spot on Canada's Paralympic cycling team.
Not bad for a guy who only recently got into the track side of the sport.
"The whole experience was beyond what I ever imagined," Chernove said. "It made me feel like a pro cyclist, which I never tried to imagine or dream of. It's amazing the way Cycling Canada has supported me once making the standard to make that jump up onto the national team—it's been a whole different reality."
Chernove has been a road racer in cycling for years, but track cycling has been a new experience for him since trying out the sport less than a year ago at a velodrome in Burnaby.
After training for a few months, he headed over to Ontario for the track nationals in Milton, hitting the podium twice, with results good enough to catch the attention of an athlete development program within Cycling Canada.
From there, it's been a whirlwind of training to get to Montichiari, Italy, and the Para-cycling Track World Championships. For two weeks prior to the event, the Canadian team was holed up at a velodrome in Portugal to get acclimatized and work off the jet lag.
Chernove didn't know what the competition was going to be like until race day.
"My first event was the qualifying heat for the [Individual] Pursuit and my competitor from the Czech Republic, I passed fairly early in the race, caught up to him and knew that I was going much faster, but I hadn't done a lot of other research on these athletes, so I didn't know if it was a good measure compared to other people in the category," said Chernove.
"But then as the day went on and everyone qualified and my time was still a significant jump up above others, then I felt pretty confident heading into the final that evening."
The first gold was in the individual pursuit category, where Chernove won by over nine seconds over Ireland's Colin Lynch. The second gold medal came in the 1,000 metre Time Trial with a run of 1:13279.
"I thought that I would have more difficulty securing the gold in the kilo and I hadn't really been practicing that event, because I don't focus on the really, really short sprint stuff as much; my focus, because I'm really new to the sport, is learning how to pace and not going out too fast," Chernove said.
"The pursuit has all been about learning my own pacing, so I literally hadn't practiced one kilo for months and months and months.
"And so I was nervous about how I would do on that."
Due to his results in Italy, Chernove has all but punched his ticket for a spot on Team Canada's cycling squad for the Summer Paralympics in Rio de Janiero.
Getting into cycling
It's been a short, but action-packed year for Chernove leading up to the world championship.
His results from his first-ever competitive event at the Canadian Cycling Championship in Quebec last summer were good enough to raise some heads to get into the NextGen program—an athlete development program designed to help athletes train for podium results over the four-year Olympic intervals.
At first, Chernove and his coaches within the program were eyeing the Tokyo Summer Games in 2020, however, the results of his training got him fast-tracked for the Rio de Janerio games coming up this summer in Brazil.
Track cycling is a different animal from road cycling; with track, racers are in a controlled environment in a velodrome. For Chernove, it was challenging to learn the technical side of the sport as the closest velodrome is in Burnaby.
However, he is able to do much of his training in Cranbrook with daily input from his coaches who can monitor the data from his workouts remotely, while Pacific Coastal Airlines flies him down to Burnaby for regular sessions at the velodrome down there.
Based on what he's been able to accomplish at home and in Italy, he knows that his fellow Paralympians coming to the Rio de Janerio Games will be seeing him as a threat.
"I'm getting faster and faster and now I'm looking ahead to Rio and I know that all countries will be stepping up their game," Chernove said. "I really like the fact that the way it's been expressed to me by my coaches is that I just came in there and raised the bar.
"While it was amazing and good for the sport to raise that bar—because I don't think people really realize what they're capable of until they're pushed—but I expect that a lot of those athletes that I might have bumped off the podium are going to be looking at new ways to go faster."
Chernove is a para-athlete, but you wouldn't notice it on first glance.
In 2009, he was diagnosed with Charcot–Marie–Tooth (CMT) disease, a degenerative neurological condition characterized by progressive loss of muscle tissue and touch sensation across various parts of the body.
Currently, there is no cure or treatment for it.
"t's not a life-threatening disease and there's so many things out there that need attention and are actually taking people's lives," said Chernove. "Until we can find treatment and cures for those, things like this condition won't get a ton of attention.
But there are enough unknowns that it's easy to keep a positive outlook. There is a mystery factor there and I'm willing to believe in the mystery factor and think that I can find ways, just paying attention to my own body, to hopefully lessen the progression."
Chernove has always been active, and especially as an endurance athlete, competing at the world level in kayak racing, while also working as a mountain guide and teaching a Canadian Outdoor Leadership Program.
Chernove recalled an accident in Mexico in 2001 where he broke his back going through the windshield of a bus that went down a river bank and noted how it had a profound impact on his attitude.
"I got outside the hospital and had a feeling of happiness that I could never recall having in my life. I was just so happy and I had no use of my body, I had no clothes, no money, but just total joy," Chernove said. "I think, looking back on it now, I was only able to hang onto that feeling for a month or so…but I'm sure it woke up a realization of what matters in life.
"During that moment and the next four or five days the only thing that ever crossed my mind were the human relationships that I've had—the people who had impacted me in a positive way or the people that I hoped I'd impacted."
He also credits his family—his wife, Carrie and two daughters, Morgan (6) and Bronwyn (9)—for being a source of inspiration and to set an example by how he lives and tackles the challenges of his CMT diagnosis, because it is an hereditary condition.
"I feel better knowing that if either of my daughters have it, that they've had an example in their life of a dad who's had an amazing life regardless of the disease," he said. "I hope that sets an example for them that they can be really positive in their outlook if they have it."
Competing as a para-athlete also helps raise his profile and his passion for fundraising for the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation, which fundraises for CMT research.
"I saw that through paracycling I could get more exposure and get more attention to the incredible para-athletes around the world and in many ways, that sort of drew out more passion for me in the sport than competing in able-bodied," Chernove said. "That was really dipping my toes in the water of paracycling."
With the support of Cycling Canada at his back, Chernove has access to resources he can only dream of.
From coaches, to sports psychologists to nutritionists, doctors and physiologists, along with material support such as cycling equipment and technical expertise—Chernove is working on taking his abilities to the next level.
His morning routine consists of waking up and putting on a heart rate monitor that monitors the rest and depth intervals between his heartbeats, which helps determine fatigue levels in response to his training regimen.
While there isn't a lot of work in the gym, there's a lot of interval training on a stationary bike, which may consist of a 20 minute warmup before intervals of 45 seconds of max wattage with 10-15 seconds of rest.
Chernove—the CEO of Elevate Airports, which manages the Canadian Rockies International Airport—has also been known to get his bike out on the airport tarmac in between flights and is very active with the Wildhorse Cycling Club.
From now until September when the Paralympic Games kick off, Chernove will be doing much of his training at home, however, there are upcoming races in Germany and potentially Spain to get ready.
While he won double-gold for track cycling events in Italy, he feels his main strength is road-racing, which those events in Germany and Spain will help him see where he stacks up against the rest of the competition.
"I didn't have a pre-plan to get to worlds or get to Rio, but I've been reacting the best way I can to whatever opportunities are coming," Chernove said.
"…And now, I've have the most wonderful life, but I realize that no matter what cards come or what happens, even if I end up in a chair, it's just how I react to the information that's given to me, or the choices I make emotionally to those cards that I'm dealt that are going to determine how happy I am, which is really all that matters."
Chernove admits that representing Canada as the Rio de Janerio Paralympic Summer Games would be a pipe dream if it wasn't for the support he's received over the last year, namely from his family—Carrie, Morgan and Bronwyn—and his staff—including Crystal Porter and Jamie Roche—at the CRIA.
He also credits Cycling Canada and his coaches—Guillame Plourde, Sebastian Traverse, and Eric Van den Eynde—for getting him ready to perform at his best. Mattamy Homes provides accommodation for athletes competing at events in Eastern Canada, while Pacific Coastal Airlines flies him down for training sessions at the Burnaby velodrome at no cost.