A former fixed gear rider and racer, she has found parallels between navigating the streets of New York City by bike and her latest love of riding and racing gravel. We caught up with Hannah to hear more about her current adventures.
How did you start your journey into cycling?
I started by riding fixed gear bikes in New York City. It’s a total adrenaline rush to weave through traffic, hold the flow of green lights and dodge pedestrians. Riding a fixed gear is like driving a manual car. It takes skill and mental focus, especially in the context of NYC traffic.
When did you get into competitive cycling?
After I raced my first Red Hook Criterium, which was in London in 2015. I am very much a lone wolf when it comes to cycling. Everything around it becomes inwardly focused. My breath, my lines, the mental strength in completing intervals or climbing a mountain. When I’m competing, it’s also very personal. The course is your own problem to solve.
Can you tell us how being diagnosed with MS has impacted your cycling life?
I had to adapt how I handled a bike, really work on building core strength, and accept impaired muscle power. It means longer, unpredictable recovery times and debilitating fatigue—and an ability to adapt and work around it. I never know how I am going to be when I wake up. I don’t know if my legs will work, if my arms will work, or if I will be too fatigued to leave the house. Lots of times I feel awesome, but many I don’t. I have to be adaptable and work with my body, not against it.
When did you first become a para-athlete?
I first competed as a C5 para-athlete in 2019.
What's it like having an "invisible" disability?
I think an invisible disability has more of an impact on people’s perception of you in general. With an athlete or person with a visible disability, it’s easy for people to understand. Especially in the context of competitive sport, people are confused when the word para or disability is associated with a “normal” looking person. There are a lot of times that people can minimize what it feels like to not be able to do things you used to do because you look like you should be able to do them. A lot of times it will be like, “Oh yeah, I get tired, too.” Or “I am tired from training, too.” It is absolutely not the same as MS fatigue—where it’s literally a slog to go make yourself food. The mental toll it takes of having a mind that wants to do something and a body that won’t. The strength it takes to accept that, especially for someone who is driven and athletic, is immense.
What initially inspired you to start riding gravel?
The culture, the adventure, and the views. The technical aspect of off-road cycling is really what draws me. Coming from the organized chaos of NYC, it is something you can find in gravel as well. What is the terrain, how does it move under your tire? What obstacles will you encounter, how is the descent, how have the elements affected the trail, how are the elements affecting you now? It’s something that keeps your mind sharp and focused. When you have a moment to look up, you can’t help but feel small in the beautiful, vast landscapes you can access this way. Feeling small is humbling and beautiful.
What is it about competitive gravel riding that excites you?
It’s the places you get to race and the community of acceptance. The gravel community really shines in its inclusivity and equality. Age, race, gender, ability—all are welcome here. There is no other place where your grandpa and seasoned pros ride the same course at the same time. No one is better than their neighbor. They are all there to solve the same problem, maybe just with different goals. The finish line is there for everyone the same. I felt a lot of judgment on the road for having an invisible disability. I want to exist in a space that accepts who I am and my ability without expectation. That is something that I can find when I race gravel. I don’t know how long I will be able to ride this way, at any moment my disability could change. So I just want to get the most out of it while I can.