Q&A with Paralympian Greta Neimanas
Greta Neimanas is a two-time Paralympian and two-time world champion in cycling. She competed in the 2008 and 2012 Paralympic Games. She was recently interviewed by Tyler Stern, a dual-sport member of the Disabled Sports USA’s E-Team (both cycling and Nordic skiing) and active with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra, a chapter of DSUSA.
Tyler: Greta, how long have you been involved in the sport of para cycling?
Greta: I competed as a cyclist for 12 years, 11 of those years with the national team. I retired in 2016 although I guess I stopped racing in 2015, halfway through season, and retired due to injuries. So I have been traveling a long time and wearing stretch pants racing bikes for a long time.
Tyler: What was your injury?
Greta: Some background on me… I am missing my arm below the elbow, so that’s how I’m eligible for Paralympic sports. I had a series of concussions that took me out of competitive cycling. In 2015, I had a bad crash in June in Italy at one of the World Cups during the season. So, that was the last race that I did. After that it was just too many cumulative concussions for me to keep racing and training at that level. Now I coach and I boss people around.
Tyler: How do you like coaching?
Greta: I love it! I was able to get involved with the U.S. Navy’s adaptive cycling program and work with ill and injured service members. I’ve worked exclusively with the Navy team for most of the year and this year I actually got the call up to go to Invictus Games. S I’ll be with the national team, comprised of all ill and injured service men and women from across all service branches. I will be one of two coaches for the cycling team there and the experience has just been awesome. I found that I really enjoy working with development athletes, those athletes that are new and still learning and on a rapid upwards trajectory in the sport. Elite athletes, obviously they’re very skilled at what they do, but I found that I enjoy working with the development athletes a little more.
Greta: I have to write everything down. One of the side effects, perhaps one of the most significant lingering side effects from all of my concussions, is that I have a very poor short-term memory. My calendar app I think is my most used app on my phone and computer. I try to keep track of everything that way, but it’s busy. I’m a full-time student now that I’ve stopped competing. I have more time to go to school, so I am a full-time student, working as a coach, and then also I’m actually in the airport right now to head out to do anti-doping education for junior athletes in cycling, so it’s busy. It’s exciting because every day is a little bit different, but the simple answer is to just write everything down.
Tyler: Do you sometimes miss competing?
Greta: Yes, I definitely do. If I watch races online or on tv, my heartrate increases, not like I’m in the race but watching it, you know my heartrate starts going up. And I’m thinking ‘oh, they should do this or that,’ or ‘what would I do in this situation or I would have done something differently’. I miss competing, but I have to say I don’t necessarily miss the training as much, but I do miss the competition. It is nice to not have to go out and ride in the rain for a couple of hours. I can just stay home and drink coffee instead, which that is a very comfortable position to be in.
Tyler: Where are you from?
Greta: I grew up in Chicago and that’s actually where I started racing. I joined a juniors cycling team in Chicago and start racing first on the velodrome and then started racing on the road. I then bounced around a bit over the next 12 years or so, primarily living in Colorado at the Olympic Training Center. I was a resident athlete there, but now I currently live just outside of Washington D.C.
Greta: I do not have any kids but I have two dogs, so they’re like fur-kids.
Tyler: What advice would you give to an upcoming athlete?
Greta: Advice that I would give to an up and coming athlete would be to just be as much of a sponge as you can. Absorb any and all information that you can get your hands on. Read books, read interviews, read articles, and just get out on a group ride and talk to people. See who is good, see who you admire in your local community, talk to them and take advantage of opportunities. You know a lot of times new athletes get nervous about putting themselves out there, to go and do a big race that might be at the next level of where they are or where they think they are. New athletes should just take that leap and try stuff because what’s the worse that could happen? Maybe you get last place. Well you’re still out there and you’re still competing. You’re gonna learn a ton from that, even if you get dropped from the pack or even if you don’t finish. It’s only a bad race or a bad training if you don’t learn something from it. So even if it seems like something is going wrong, think, ‘okay what do I need to do to make it right or what can I do differently next time so that it is better’.
Tyler: How do you stay organized to get things accomplished?
Greta: Like I said earlier, having an organizer app like the calendar has been really helpful. Other people have task managing apps but I just use the calendar app for all the things that need to get done and then have to do lists. Especially when I was training, I would keep my equipment in the same spot. I would hang my helmet up in the same spot so it was put away, put my shoes in the same spot so it was put away, that way when it was time for training I could just go, here’s my shoes, here’s my helmet, glasses, boom boom boom, out the door and put it back in the same place. I didn’t have to pick stuff up and organize stuff because they were in the place where they need to go. The same really could be said if you have a bunch of competitions coming up, have a race bag with the basics, competition kit, your helmet, safety pins for numbers, things like that keeping it all together, almost like a bug out bag. The last thing you need to throw in is your nutrition and your hydration and then you’re ready to go. After everything gets washed, repack your bag, throw it in a closet, and then everything is ready to go for the next weekend.
Greta: That can be really tough. That is one reason to stay engaged in your community, because a lot of time people will fish around and say ‘if I put on a race would anybody be interested in doing it?’ and sometimes you hear about things via word of mouth. In addition, there’s a really great calendar on the US Cycling webpage. You can search, you can filter by race type (i.e. road race, track, or mountain bike), or you can filter by your area Most regions have a local or smaller cycling association that you can get plugged into. I’m not sure offhand the name of yours in the Sierra region, but I’m sure there’s something besides USA Cycling that you can get plugged into as well.
Tyler, can I ask you where you’re going to college?
Tyler: A junior college in California it’s called MSJC (Mt. San Jacinto College).
Greta: Awesome, I started at a junior college as well and I think it’s great. I learned more from my instructors at junior college than I did during the short stint at a four year college. So that’s a really smart decision.