National News

Faith Helps Guide Cyclist on the Road to Her Olympic Dream

Olympic cyclist Coryn Rivera of Tustin, Calif., is seen riding a bicycle in this 2015 photo.Rivera, a 2015 graduate of Marian University in Indianapolis, said her Catholic faith has been a great influence in her life. She came in seventh place in the July 25, 2021, womenís cycling road race at the Tokyo Olympics. (Photo: CNS/Handout via The Criterion)

By John Shaughnessy

INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — The road ahead is a busy and joyful one for 28-year-old Coryn Rivera, starting with the dream that she has been racing toward since she was 10: representing the United States as an Olympic athlete in cycling, the sport she loves.

Rivera lived that dream July 25 when she competed in the road race at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, speeding along a 140-kilometer course — about 87 miles.

Although she finished seventh and out of the running for a medal, Rivera in an interview ahead of her event called it “a huge honor” to be competing in the Tokyo Games.

“I’m proud of my country. I’m proud of where I grew up,” said Rivera, a 2015 graduate of Marian University in Indianapolis. She lives in Tustin, California, where she and her family have been longtime members of St. Thomas More Parish.

“I’ve represented our country at the Junior World Championships, the Pan American Championships and the Pro World Championships, but the Olympics is something special.”

So is the impact that her Catholic faith has had in her life.

“I grew up in a Catholic family, and I’m still practicing,” said Rivera, the daughter of two immigrants from the Philippines who met in the United States. “It’s the backbone of my family. It’s given me guidance. It’s given me hope and faith in what we’re going through. God has always led our family. It’s kept us really strong.”

She and her family have especially relied on that faith since her father, Wally, died of COVID-19 in March, after being part of the effort to fight the disease as a laboratory scientist. He was the one who introduced her to cycling, rode with her in her early years of the sport and encouraged her dreams of success.

“As I was getting into cycling, it was mostly me and him,” she recalled in an interview with The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. “I started riding when I was 8 or 9. When I was 10, I won a race. That’s when I broke through. I thought, ‘I really want to do this.'”

In the years since, she has thrived in the sport, and is on the short list of the most successful cyclists in the country. When her dream of participating in the 2016 Summer Olympics eluded her, she focused on the Olympics in Tokyo, fulfilling a longtime goal for her that she and her father shared. He had planned to be there to cheer for her in Tokyo.

“It’s always something that’s sad,” she said. “I always try to find the positives of what he’s built for us and made for us. It gives me extra motivation to make him proud.”

While her parents and her family helped shape the person she is, so did her years at Marian, the Catholic university in Indianapolis that is renowned for its cycling success under the direction of coach Dean Peterson.

“I’m grateful for my time at Marian and for Coach Dean,” she said. “At that point in your life, there’s a lot to learn — going from a kid to an adult. It helped shaped me as an adult. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I didn’t go through everything I did at Marian.”

She met her future husband — Nate Labecki — at Marian. The couple plan to be married Oct. 3 at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California. It’s one more great ride to celebrate on the busy and joyful road ahead of her.

Ahead of her event, her focus was on living her Olympic dream.

“One of my strengths is my mental strength,” she said. “I’ve been at a lot of levels of racing. At the end of the day, you have to remember it’s just another race. I’ll just be focusing on what I love to do and what I’m good at doing.”

She was “pretty elated about going to the Olympics … a dream come true.”

Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.