Mandy Marquardt can’t believe her cycling dreams are still alive.
Her Type 1 Diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, hasn’t taken her off the proverbial track. The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t discouraged her either, even though her aspiration to become an Olympian was postponed.
Instead of competing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics then turning 29 a day before the scheduled Closing Ceremony last month, Mandy trains at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, without clarity on the future of the sport and the world around her.
“That was challenging because I took it day-by-day,” Mandy says, “and now it’s month-to-month. But I want to continue for another Olympic cycle and whatever happens, happens.”
An 18-time U.S. National Champion, Mandy possesses the physical, mental and emotional characteristics to excel in her sport. Yet the TrueSport ambassador also credits much of her development and success to positive coaches and influences in her life.
At the age of 16, while training in Germany, Mandy was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and a doctor there told her that she would never compete at an elite level. She even experienced a few coaches who questioned her work ethic and were insensitive to the symptoms and complications of diabetes.
Mandy’s father encouraged her to be vigilant about her health but also to do her best and see how far she could go in cycling. Fully commit, he’d tell her, to everything in her life.
Mike Frassye, one of her coaches before the diagnosis, recognized her immense potential and fostered her passion for the sport.
Her current coach, Andrew Harris of Edge Cycling, researched all about Type 1 Diabetes when they first started working together and tailored a game-plan to not only help Mandy’s transition from endurance to sprint track cycling but also in her continued development.
Phil Southerland isn’t a coach, but he’s the CEO and Co-Founder of Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes pro cycling team that aims to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes. Novo Nordisk is a Danish company that manufactures and markets pharmaceutical products and services, including diabetes care devices and medications. Mandy has been on Team Novo Nordisk for a decade, and she’s thankful to the team and Phil for his steady support of her.
Late last month, Mandy unofficially set a new U.S. National Track record in the Women’s 1km Time Trial at the Valley Preferred Cycling Center with a time of 1:08.694 (52.4kph average) at the 2020 Ocean Spray Time Trial Record Day. The record is unofficial until the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) results are confirmed and the bike inspection is verified by USA Cycling.
Phil texted Mandy to congratulate her on the record.
“Having Phil and the team believing in me and supporting me means so much,” Mandy says. “They’ve helped me to talk about my story. We’ve been together so long and it feels like a family. What holds everyone together is diabetes and that shared passion to help other people.”
The record was special for another reason; the previous record holder was Kelly Catlin, one of Mandy’s former teammates who passed away last year.
“That meant a lot because I always admired her, and she was my roommate many times,” Mandy recalls. “I really wanted to go for it, for her.”
Mandy says the result was a bit surprising. Due to COVID, her schedule has been ravaged as she spends more time at home and not on the road. But, as always, she tries to focus on the positives.
“COVID has been good in a way, because I’ve been home. So I’m in a routine more,” she says, noting that her schedule revolves around training and eating and eliminating meals at airports and hotels. “It’s shown me what life could be life after my career.”
Not that she’s ready to retire anytime soon, especially after setting the national record. In the meantime, though, Mandy and Harris will continue to reassess and evaluate what they’re doing with the goal of getting to Tokyo next summer.
Harris is humbled by Mandy’s appreciation for him. But he believes coaches should not push, but rather teach and inspire.
“Elite sport is brutal and unforgiving,” Harris says. “The athletes must have an understanding that this is a necessary part of achieving elite performance. We stress there is a difference between motivation and commitment. Motivation is a product of emotions. Motivation will come and go, especially during periods of fatigue or failure. Commitment doesn’t waver. It is what gets an athlete through the difficult times.”
Mandy is thrilled that Harris is a part of her journey, and she hopes other coaches recognize the significant role in the lives of the young people they work with, too.
“Coaches have a very important role in developing our youth,” Mandy says. “Young athletes look up to their coach(es) for guidance and affirmation. It's so important as a coach to be positive and professional because coaches have a significant impact on a child's experience in sport and beyond.”