As the 2016 Paralympics get underway today in Rio (J-Dawg just won a silver medal) we give thanks and praise to the long line of physically challenged athletes who have inspired a generation of XTERRA racers.
We’ve been in awe since 1999 when we first witnessed Paul Martin hop out of the water on one leg, then tackle the unforgiving XTERRA World Championship bike and run courses.
Soon after that a pre-teen Rudy Garcia-Tolson captured our hearts and spirits as a super-fast relay team swimmer at XTERRA events all over the west coast in the early 2000’s. Today, he’s the captain of the 2016 USA Paralympic swim team and participating in his fourth games with four medals (two golds) already in his pocket.
We knew the sky was the limit when we met “one-arm” Willie Stewart. He was the first challenged athlete with one-arm to race XTERRA thanks in part to a futuristic prosthetic arm that would break-away in case of a bike crash.
Then came Bobby McMullen, who raced it blind, and Taylor Seavey, who couldn’t hear a thing.
Through the years every physically challenged athlete that raced in the dirt with XTERRA – and there have been dozens upon dozens – have shown us the strength of the human spirit, the kind of courage we are capable of, and the perseverance to find a way.
Next week at the XTERRA Pan America Championship race in Ogden, Utah – a grueling event that mixes a one-mile swim with 18-miles of mountain biking and 6.5-miles of running, we have the privilege to cheer on four physically challenged athletes.
Two-time XTERRA PC Division World Champion Judy Abrahams, a below-knee amputee, is back racing off-road after a year spent dealing with prosthetic problems. It’s been 10 years since the bike accident which subsequently lead to her amputation.
“I think this race is a fitting tribute to a comeback, although I feel like I seem to go through a comeback almost every year with all the silly stuff that goes on in my life,” said Abrahams.
Michael Stone knows the feeling. The two-time XTERRA PC National Champion, who is legally blind with Retinitis Pigmentsosa, has experienced a persistent decline in his sight.
“One of the biggest challenges despite navigating everyday life, was to figure out how to continue my participation in the sports I have come to love so much,” he said. “It became quite obvious that I could no longer safely participate in these sports, namely running, cycling and triathlon independently. Losing this independence has been quite a personal challenge. However, with some amazing support I am continuing to race.”
Stone will race with guides Kristin Brown (swim) and Kimberly Baldwin for the bike and run, and all the while raise awareness for the specific research his doctors are doing to treat his condition.
“They have had great success thus far as they have proven in the lab that they can repair our retinas and restore sight,” said Stone. “Their work has been well documented and published.”
Craig Vogstberger, the most decorated PC athlete on the America Tour having captured his record-setting 9th XTERRA Regional Championship this year, returns to Utah for a duel against friend and four-time regional champ Darren Smith. Those two wear the same carbon fiber orthodic brace that provides the balance and agility necessary for them to run and bike.
For many physically challenged athletes, the equipment plays a major role. That is why the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-thon, as it has for 20 years now, will be on-site in Utah providing professional haircuts with 100% of the proceeds going to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
To support that cause XTERRA Warrior and cancer survivor David DeSantis, who won the Northeast 55-59 Regional Championship for the third time this year, has raised nearly $29,000 for the CAF as part of his campaign to race 16 XTERRAs around the world this year. He’s done a dozen races so far, most of them while tumors grew and chemo raged through his body. DeSantis had surgery Tuesday to remove those cancerous tumors, and says he’s doing fine and can now focus his energy on training to race at XTERRA Worlds. You can help him reach is goals, which is to help physically challenged athletes reach their goals, at https://www.gofundme.com/DeSantis16in2016.
We wish all the Paralympians racing in Rio this week – particularly Team USA’s Jamie Whitmore, Megan Fisher, and Rudy Garcia-Tolson – the best of luck and thank all the physically challenged athletes for the endless amount of inspiration they provide to us all.