Madsen's racing career shifts to marathons

Julie Davis, CherryRoad Media

After 25 years as an Olympic and Paralympic sprinter, Cheri Becerra Madsen has set a new goal for herself: marathoning.

Madsen visited the Nebraska City Rotary Club on Nov. 17 to discuss her experiences at the 1996, 2000, 2016, and 2020 Paralympic Games, as well as how she got started in competition.

Madsen said she lost the use of her legs at age 4 because of an unknown virus. Despite being unable to walk, she said her parents didn’t treat her any differently than her other siblings, and she developed a lot of upper body strength by wheeling herself around after her brothers and sisters.

She said Candy Rehmeier knocked on the door of her family’s home one day and asked if they had ever heard of wheelchair racing. Madsen and her mother looked into it, and she competed in her first race using a borrowed chair, and she qualified for national competition after two months of racing.

The city of Nebraska City helped fundraise to buy her first racing wheelchair frame, said Madsen, and volunteer coaches helped get her stronger and faster.

She competed in an Olympic demonstration race in Atlanta in 1996 and earned a bronze medal in the women’s 800-meter. Two weeks later, she won two silver medals and two bronze medals in the 1996 Paralympic Games.

She won two gold medals and one silver medal in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, then stepped away from competition to get married and start a family.

In 2007, her younger brother asked her when she planned to start competing again. He had traveled with Madsen and their mother to Atlanta and to Sydney, and he wanted his nieces to be able to see other places and watch Madsen compete as he had.

In December 2007, Madsen’s brother and father were killed in an automobile accident. Madsen began training again in his honor, and by 2013, she was ready to compete for a spot on the 2016 Paralympic team that would travel to Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Her family couldn’t travel with her to Brazil because of the Zika virus, but they were able to watch her win two medals at the 2017 World Championships in London. They made plans to travel to Tokyo for the 2020 Paralympic Games, which were delayed for a year due to COVID-19. Madsen went by herself to Japan and brought back two more medals for an overall total of 10: two gold, five silver, three bronze.

Madsen said she thinks now is a great time for her to retire from sprinting, even though her times are faster now than they were when she began competing in the 1990s.

She said she doesn’t think she can medal again in sprints, and she said she didn’t want to train to her competitive level and come home empty-handed.

The Nebraska City Rotary Club meets at noon Wednesdays at Valentino’s, 1710 S. 11th St. Guests pay $9 for lunch.

Speaker for tomorrow (Nov. 24) is scheduled to be state Sen. Mike Hilgers, speaker of the Nebraska legislature, who will explain the redistricting process.

Cole Sharp is the club president. Call (402) 873-0530 for more information.

Cheri Becerra Madsen, a 10-time Paralympic medalist, was the guest speaker for the Nov. 17 meeting of the Nebraska City Rotary Club.