Daphne Schrager: Former sprinter turned para-cyclist on winning her first rainbow jersey

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Para-cyclist Daphne Schrager says winning her first world title less than three years after switching from athletics has given her “more belief” in her abilities.

The 21-year-old won the C3 individual pursuit at the Para-cycling Track World Championships in Paris last month.

Former sprinter Schrager joined British Cycling’s programme in December 2019.

“It doesn’t really change anything, just have a bit more belief, train a bit harder,” Schrager told BBC Sport.

“Now I’ve won one medal I don’t see why I couldn’t do it again next year.”

Schrager came from behind to beat Japan’s Keiko Sugiura over the 3km distance to win the gold medal and rainbow jersey, in a personal best time of 3:58:963.

“I didn’t go into the championships expecting anything really and I was just like I’ll give it a go and see what happens. To come out and get a world title was crazy,” she added.

“I had some good results on the road this year, quite close to medals, top five finishes so I was hoping I could scrape into maybe a medal ride of some sort and maybe finish top five if I was lucky. But not to win anything.”

‘I came in a real rookie’

As a sprinter, Schrager, from Malmsbury, Wiltshire, had experience of major tournaments. She finished fifth at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 in the T35 100m final but had fallen out of love with the sport as she was leaving school.

At the last minute she sent in an application for a talent day with British Cycling and was invited the following week for testing.

After getting through five gruelling rounds, Schrager was given a place on British Cycling’s foundation programme.

While Schrager had performed in elite sport for years, in cycling she came in “a real rookie”. In those early months she practiced her bike skills in a supermarket car park while her mum held bollards.

Daphne Schrager during the individual pursuit final at the 2022 Para-Cycling Track World Championships

“Lockdown was a blessing because for me I was in my first year at uni, it was on Zoom and I could focus so much on bike skills because there was no one on the road, try lots of different things,” she said.

Schrager has cerebral palsy – a condition that affects movement and coordination – and adapting her equipment suitably was one of the biggest early challenges when she switched to the sport.

“All of those bits that took a while to learn. I still have whoopsy days where you fall off at traffic lights and you’re like, ‘I’m in GB kit and I’ve fallen off at these traffic lights’,” Schrager said.

Equally, she’s developed a different mindset towards her own body image in the three years since she left athletics and took up cycling.

“The biggest part that I found was being 17, 18, being like I should look a certain way or I should be a certain body type,” she added.

“For me, as a young athlete forming into that elite pro mindset, since transferring into cycling it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got big legs, small legs, whatever, as long as you can ride a bike.”

‘Everyone should just have a go’

Schrager saw instant results when she started racing. She finished third in her first international World Cup on the road and then third at the Para-road World Championships in the C3 road race last September.

This year she added a European Championships bronze medal in the time trial and national titles in the C1-3 time trial and C1-3 individual pursuit, before taking the world title on the track.

“I just challenge anyone, even if you don’t have a disability or want to get active, just to have a go because you might find something which you didn’t think three years would be a possibility,” Schrager continued.

Time trialling and the individual pursuit are Schrager’s favoured events. Yet next year, all cycling disciplines will be combined into one multi-discipline world championships, held on home soil in Glasgow in August, rather than separate tournaments with different locations and dates.

The prospect has given Schrager “more ammunition” to challenge for a medal in the road race, as well as the track.

“Maybe chuck in some A, B Cycling racing going into Glasgow, to put myself under more technical pressure so then when we do get on the road I’m better equipped,” she said.

The 2024 Paralympics in Paris are the primary focus, however.

“The main aim for me is to make sure I’m on that plane to Paris. That’s been my goal since I was 13 years old watching London 2012,” Schrager concluded.

“This year, I gave it all I’ve got because this is my first proper year on the squad and I don’t have any excuse – I get to ride my bike every day.

“[I’ve learned] that what you put in is what you get out and I’d quite like to continue that forwards and it just makes me a bit more robust going into the next few years.”

Source : ESPN.com

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