OAK RIDGE – Heading into her third Olympic Games, Amber Neben has faced no shortage of adversity, not only over her lengthy cycling career, but over the course of her life.
Neben, who finished second in the national time trial championships at Melton Hill Lake, has not allowed anything to slow her down. That was evident as the four-day USA Pro Road National Championships got underway in Knoxville.
Neben, 45, was diagnosed with spinal meningitis at the age of 4, a disease that left her in a coma for three days. The doctors who treated her told the family that she’d be unlikely to survive, and even if she did, she’d have to live with severe brain damage and a possible lost of hearing.
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Resiliency has always been at the heart of Neben’s as she has only bounced back stronger from every setback after bursting on the scene after becoming the U.S. cycling national road race champion in 2003.
“Adversity is not if it’s when,” said Neben, who is from Irvine, California. “And for me, my adversity has come through cycling. So my challenge has been to just continue to preserve, to chose to persevere, to always respond to the challenge, to find the opportunity and the difficulty and, yeah, I think I’m kind of wired that way.”
In November 2007, Neben found out she had melanoma at the age of 33.
Luckily, the cancer was caught in its early stages and it was able to removed completely in a surgical procedure.
What followed her recovery was one of the highlights of her decorated career, competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, mere months following the procedure. Neben finished 33rd in the road race event before becoming time trial champion at the World Championships later that year.
“God’s put it in my heart, and given me strength to continue to persevere, Neben said. “I just have never lost sight of the big picture focus, and I’ve just continued to get up and not give up and sometimes just do each day, and you don’t worry too much about what’s tomorrow or what happened in the previous time but you just keep doing each day.
Despite her motivation to keep going, Neben’s fortitude has been challenged at times and there have been phases when she’s thought of calling it career, particularly during a stretch where she sustained several serious injuries.
“I think it’s normal to have phases where you wonder about stopping,” she said. ” I think three times between 2009 and 2010, I had like three really bad crashes and three surgeries in 14 months where after each one, I really was like ‘I’m done,’ and Jason, my husband, was always like ‘don’t make the decision yet.’ “
Now on her way to Tokyo next month for her third Olympic Games, and winning four national titles after the age 41, it’s clear she made the right decision.
Neben knows that as one of the veterans on the U.S. team she’ll have a more prominent leadership role to some of the younger athletes like Chloé Dygert, who beat her out at the national time trial championships.
“It’s special to have that experience,” Neben said of being the veteran. ” I think and I hope that I can be a calming force within the group, and just help people enjoy the movement of being there, while staying focused.”
It would be fair to question what is motivating Neben for this Olympic run, just five years after failing to qualify for the 2016 Games. The answer, it turns out, is a childhood dream.
“I dreamt of gold when I was 10 years old,” Neben said. “When I missed the team in 2016, it was kind of a surrendered dream and God resurrected the dream a couple years ago and he just kept the door open.”
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