Toughing It Out

Alums Shawn Morelli and Jake Schrom rose to the occasion at the Tokyo Paralympics.

Shawn Morelli

The conditions in Tokyo couldn’t have been much worse for cycling. When Shawn Morelli suited up for the time trial, the temperature peaked at 93 degrees—with 85% humidity. The day of the road race, it was a much more agreeable 65 degrees—with hail and driving rain. “I got overheated in the time trial, and then I knew the road race was going to be difficult when I woke up to a monsoon,” Morelli ’98 Behrend says. “I typically won’t roll out of my garage if it’s raining.”

Of course, she’s seen worse. Morelli was serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan in 2007 when a roadside bomb blast left her with neck and nerve damage, and blind in her left eye. A member of the women’s soccer team at Behrend, she was always competitive, but she initially started cycling only as part of her post-injury rehab. But she found she liked it, quickly realized she was good at it, and in 2010 she started racing competitively.

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Jake Schrom

A two-time gold medalist at Rio 2016, Morelli proved once again in Tokyo that she’s one of the best in the world. She won her second straight gold in the time trial and took silver in individual pursuit, a 3,000-meter track event, while finishing ninth in the monsoon-battered road race. Adding those to her haul of 16 world championship medals—including 12 golds—since 2014, she came home content. “I pretty much did what I expected,” she says. “I figured there weren’t many people who were going to be faster than me.”

Jake Schrom set his expectations on a top-six finish, and he met them. Schrom ’11 Agr, who lost his right leg in a car accident when he was a Penn State junior, made his Paralympic debut in Tokyo and finished sixth in the 107kg powerlifting event. His top lift of 218kg was a personal best. “There were a lot of big dogs in my weight class,” he said after the competition, “so to meet my goal there, I feel really good.”