It's been a long and windy road to Aaron Keith's first Paralympic Games.
Since joining the U.S. Paralympic Cycling National Team in 2013, the Woodinville resident has become a veteran at the World Championship games, earning two gold, a silver and two bronze medals. But, he said, he's always just fallen short of moving on.
In early 2020, he managed to qualify for the Tokyo games in one of the earliest opportunities to do so.
Then, the global pandemic hit and the games were postponed.
Keith then entered a strange training limbo, where he was stuck between wanting to maintain his fitness for the return of the games, but not wanting to workout too hard in case the wait was long.
"You can't maintain your fitness forever," he said. "It was tough to try and figure out how to make all that stuff work."
Despite these obstacles, he said, he's feeling close to where he needs to be to be competitive at the games.
He'll travel to Japan on Aug. 18 and start competing around Aug. 24, he said.
Keith races in both the track and road para-cycling events.
His best chances for a metal will come from the road events, he said. His two world championship gold medals were won in road time trials in 2019 and 2014.
"That's pretty much where my training's focused," Keith said.
In the road races, he'll ride on the famed Fuji Speedway, used in Formula 1 competitions.
Keith, who just recently turned 50, said he's feeling like he has a good chance to do well, even if it "feels like a young man's sport."
Many of the people he'll be racing against are half his age or younger, he said.
Although Keith said he doesn't think he's getting much faster, he's worked closely with his coach, decorated Olympic cyclist Sarah Hammer, to use better equipment and positioning to become more aerodynamic and improve his times.
Having done most of his training around home, he said, he's taken advantage of Western Washington's pleasant seasonal weather to get on his bike more often. The timing of the games are perfect, Keith said, because he tends to perform best at competitions that take place at the end of the summer, when he's had the nice weather for much of his training. Early spring competitions are tougher, he said, after he's had to try and maintain motivation during "the dark days of winter."
No spectators from outside the country will be allowed at the games this year, according to Olympic organizers, so Keith's family will not be able to travel with him there. He said it'll be tough without family there, but he's also thinking of it more as a "business trip" than a vacation.
"I'm really excited to go, but I don't want to go just to say that I've gone," he said. "I want to metal."