NEBRASKA CITY - Cheri Becerra-Madsen is an American hero, an inspiring daughter of her native Omaha Nation and an enduring member of Team USA, but her thoughts were on her hometown of Nebraska City when she crossed the finish line at the Tokyo Games.
The pandemic had limited organized competition, so she didn’t know how well the other athletes were doing. She was 44 years old and had worried earlier that she might not even be able to make the team for a fourth time. It was raining and there were no family or friends in the stands.
Madsen : “That was such a tough race for me. I’m kind of one of the heavier athletes on that start line, so, if you kind of notice, I always kind of get out last off the line. I probably have 20 pounds on everyone else.”
Madsen, who works with Kevin Gray in Nebraska City and has coaches in Texas, said she agrees with the famous adage that the will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital. For the first time her training included the hills of the ancient glacial till that dominate the steep geography of her hometown. She was new to two-a-day workouts and a plant-based diet.
Madsen: “Working with Kevin just to build up some muscle. He actually came out to the track with me quite a bit this time, which is something that hadn’t happened in the past, so just being able to have that extra person on the track. He would bring some of his athletes out and I would chase them down and we do starts together, so it was a huge team effort to get me to this point.”
She got involved in racing at age 19 when the Nebraska City community held a fundraiser to help buy her first racing wheelchair.
Madsen: “To be honest, if it weren’t for this community and moving to Nebraska City, I probably wouldn’t even of heard of adaptive sports. It was Candy Rehmeier that knocked on my door one day and just asked if I had ever heard about wheelchair racing.”
Madsen: “She showed my mom and I an article and we called the number. Two weeks later we were in Wichita, Kan. That was the first time I had ever seen a racing chair. It was like love at first sight. It was something I knew I was born to do.”
It was life that brought her thoughts to her hometown, when she pushed through the rain to win bronze in the 100 meter T54. She had medaled.
Madsen: “It was a huge relief because, I laugh at myself because Tammy Thomson (Partsch) – I’m the grand marshal for the AppleJack parade, and she’s like, ‘you know, no pressure. You don’t have to win a medal, so, when I won a medal I was like, ‘oh, thank goodness. I’ll have something to wear.”
Madsen has earned 10 medals in four Paralymics that date back to Atlanta in 1996, but said her best day in racing probably happened in Tokyo.
She won silver in the 400 meter with a time nearly a third of a second behind gold medalist Manuela Schaer of Switzerland. Her time of 53.91 was better than the world-record she once had held and was better than fellow American Tatyana McFadden.
Madsen: “To be my age and still be competitive with all these athletes – a lot of them I’m 20 years older than, if not more - so that’s been, you know… Probably the best feeling in the world is that I’m still able to be competitive in my fourth games, my last, -- like I won’t go to Paris.”
Madsen said the pandemic forced an innovation in her training to include Zoom meetings that allowed her to connect with trainers, but she also credits a method from another era for success in the rain.
She suspects that she was the only athlete on the start line that used Klister tack on her gloves to help her grip the rubber on the tires. The others were using trendy, stick sandpaper.
Madsen will appear in the AppleJack Parade on Saturday and the Eagles Club antique tractor show on Sunday. She is also scheduled to speak with students at Lourdes Central Catholic and for an Oct. 1 induction into the Nebraska City High School hall of fame.