From Cuba to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia/One Fast Mother – Marlies Mejias Garcia

I began my cycling journey in Cuba when I was thirteen, attending a sports initiation cycling class. Before that, at the age of twelve, my sister taught me how to ride a bicycle. I would spend my days studying academics, and as soon as classes were over, we would rush to the training sessions. Due to limited resources, there weren’t enough bikes for everyone, so we had to focus on improving our skills and dexterity. Each training was followed by a three-kilometer walk home. Despite the scarcity of bikes and equipment, learning to ride a bike was an incredibly enjoyable experience for me.

Having limited resources at home, I didn't fully understand the potential financial benefits that cycling could bring to my family. I simply did it for fun. My mother would work tirelessly to buy used bicycles for my sister and me. However, she eventually sold them due to concerns about the dangers we faced riding at such high speeds around town. Once again, I found myself without a bike.

I continued with my cycling lessons after school, and eventually, we started participating in municipal and provincial events. From there, I managed to qualify for my first-ever national school games. It was a challenge to assemble a complete bicycle to compete on, but we made it happen with used parts we collected. Despite the challenges, I persisted and made it happen.

Afterward, I competed in another national championship, winning all the events, which led to my selection for the Cuban National Team. Being a part of the team meant living, studying, and training at a school dedicated to our sport. The school housed various sports disciplines, such as tennis and baseball, and we drew inspiration from one another. I rarely returned home, only making the trip once a month, sometimes not even then. I needed to excel and become one of the top four athletes in Cuba, as this would enable me to travel and provide financial support for my family.

With determination, focus, and persistence, I was on my way to achieving my goals. By the age of 17, I had already competed in several events at the Junior Pan American Games and the Junior World Championships. From then on, I dedicated myself to doing my best to travel to international competitions.

I pursued a degree in “physical culture,” equivalent to an athletic trainer. I studied and trained with the sole purpose of being able to support my family. I dedicated myself to intense training and competitive racing, but it never felt enough. There was always at least one plate of food missing on the table.

I continued to push and eventually won several Pan American Championships. I was honored to represent Cuba in the Olympics, finishing in 7th and 8th place in London and Rio, respectively. In 2018, I joined the U.S-based UCI team Twenty20, and together, we traveled to Australia to compete in the Santos Tour Down Under, Cadel Road Race, and Jayco Sun Tour.

In 2019, I gave birth to my daughter, Marieth. At that time, I decided to take a break from cycling, thinking it would mark the end of my career. Five months later, I found myself back on the bike training. I began applying to different teams, but they didn’t want a new mother on their teams. Fortunately, Nicola Cranmer, who had stayed in touch with me throughout my pregnancy, suggested that I join her team. Taking her advice, I traveled to America to meet Nicola and won my first road event, El Tour de Tucson. I returned the following year and moved to my new home in Virginia.

Living in Roanoke, Virginia, has been an incredible experience. Situated between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains, Roanoke has introduced me to remarkable people. I am especially grateful for my friend and team founder, Nicola, who has supported me throughout my journey. I have found a second family here! The community here has been incredibly supportive, and I am grateful for their encouragement. Roanoke boasts the most breathtaking and safe cycling routes I have ever ridden. Training here is a cyclist's paradise, with its stunning scenery, rolling hills, and challenging climbs that are ideal for training. There are also plenty of mountain biking trails and incredible gravel riding. Being here has also allowed me to provide a better future for my daughter. She loves going to her school here, and while her first language is Spanish, living in Roanoke has also allowed her to speak English.

Even though I am far from my home in Cuba, thanks to the amazing people here, I have found that second family—that second home. Roanoke and Virginia's Blue Ridge region offer fantastic places to enjoy with the family, such as a beautiful Zoo and a lovely bike path along the riverbank that I often use to access the Blue Ridge Parkway. And to my surprise, I even found a little taste of home at the Cuba Island restaurant.

Roanoke is a city that strikes the perfect balance between rural and urban vibes. Many community events are hosted throughout the year, as well as rich city history. This quirky city has its own charms and has become the perfect place to settle down as I continue my journey towards representing Cuba in yet another Olympics, this time with my sights set on a medal.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24 UCI Cycling Team

Marlies went on to win sixteen races in North America in 2023, including criteriums and road races. She is the team sprinter. Her daughter often comes on the road with the team. She is coached by 3x Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong and is improving as a cyclist year after year.