RIO DE JANEIRO – All her life, people have told Alise Post how similar she is to her mother. Cheryl Post was an outgoing, engaging woman, one who never put forth a halfhearted effort or gave up on something because it was hard.
Cheryl died in January 2014, eight months after she was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma. Her character will be present at the Rio Games, though, when her daughter takes a second run at an Olympic medal in BMX. Alise Post reflected Cheryl’s tenacity at the 2012 Games in London, when she crashed her bike in the semifinals, stood up in a daze and staggered over the finish line on foot with the aid of two track officials. She’s continued to mirror her mom every day since, shrugging off injuries and disappointments to make her second Olympic team.
Post, a St. Cloud native, begins competition in Rio with a seeding run Wednesday that will rank the field of 16 based on their times. Friday’s semifinals include three runs, and the top eight move on to a single final run.
“In London, I had the worst experience as far as competition goes that I could possibly have,’’ said Post, who rides with the words “Cheryl Strong’’ on her helmet and bike. “And here I am, still swinging. All you can do is be positive and compete to the best of your ability.
“Mom just wanted me to do my best, and whatever that was, she was proud of me. In sports, I’ve carried that with me. She taught me never to quit, never to give up on what you’re doing.’’
Post, 25, enters the Rio Games off a bronze medal performance at the world championships in May. She is third in the world rankings, behind Mariana Pajon of Colombia — the 2012 Olympic gold medalist and current world champion — and Caroline Buchanan of Australia.
A three-time medalist at the world championships, Post didn’t even like BMX when she first tried it. Her mother insisted she give it another shot. She continued with gymnastics into her teen years, winning three high school vault state championships for St. Cloud Tech, but she decided to commit fully to barreling around an obstacle-filled track on a bike.
Looking back on her first Olympic experience, Post said she wasn’t ready to handle the white-hot pressure of the Summer Games. She found the attention given to her sport “overwhelming’’ and was overcome by the emotion of being among 10,000 of the world’s best athletes. Her crash happened near the end of her semifinal, relegating her to a 12th-place finish.
A series of injuries, her Olympic wipeout and her mother’s death have tested Post over the past four years. She said she comes to Rio as a more mature, well-balanced person, one who knows herself well enough to understand her identity isn’t dependent upon her results.
“Everything about this time is different,’’ she said. “I’m older and more experienced. I have a different outlook. I want to do the best I absolutely can at this event; it’s what I’ve trained for and dedicated myself to, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a competition.
“You just have to prepare like it’s going to be the best day of your life and hope the cards fall in your favor. I’ve been preparing to the best of my ability, and I can be satisfied knowing that.’’
Every race since the 2012 London Games has added to Post’s confidence. Her rich life off the track also has helped bring a healthy perspective.
Post is engaged to fellow BMX racer Sam Willoughby of Australia, who is among the favorites in the men’s competition in Rio. The two will be married next April in San Diego, and while training for the Olympics, she and Willoughby have been planning their wedding and reception. Post also is working on a college degree, with an eye toward a future career as a physical therapist or athletic trainer.
First things first, however. Many of her family and friends from St. Cloud — and Willoughby’s relatives, too — will be in Rio to watch her race. The U.S. has never won a gold medal in BMX, and Post can think of no better way to celebrate a sport created in America — and a mother who gave her the mettle to get here.
“It would just feel so amazing to know you put out your best effort under the highest pressure, and to be able to give it your all on a big day,’’ she said. “And not being able to have my mom here at this one, it would be amazing to honor her and my family and all the supportive people around me with the best effort I could give. That would be awesome.’’