For more than 20 years, physically challenged athletes have been conquering grueling XTERRA courses across the globe, proving to one-and-all that you can do anything you set your mind to.
We’ve been in awe of their abilities since 1999 when we first witnessed Paul Martin hop out of the water on one leg, then tackle the unforgiving bike and run courses on a prosthetic.
We learned the sky was the limit when we met Willie Stewart, the first PC athlete with one-arm to race XTERRA. Then there was Bobby McMullen, who raced it blind, and Taylor Seavey, who was deaf, and dozens of others - from Judy Abrahams to Jamie Whitmore.
Every one of them showed us the strength of the human spirit, and inspired us to be better.
On October 1st, 2022, at the XTERRA World Championship, the tradition continues as six physically challenged athletes take on off-road triathlon’s toughest challenge in the lakes and mountains of Trentino, Italy.
“You have to try the impossible to reach the possible,” said Martin Falch, a below-knee amputee from Austria who lost his leg in a work accident in 1998.
Just four years later, he won the bronze medal in the men’s slalom at the 2002 Winter Paralympics, and has been racing and winning all kinds of endurance events ever since, from marathons to XTERRA.
“I was always active in sports,” said Falch, who first raced XTERRA in 2015 and qualified for Worlds this year at XTERRA Czech. “I love alpine skiing and running and triathlon, and after the accident I wanted to keep racing and competing with non-handicaped people to see what was still possible.”
“You have to try the impossible to reach the possible.”
As it turned out, everything is possible for Falch, and just last month he won the World Triathlon Long Distance and Aquathon titles in Samorin, adding to his already long list of accomplishments.
In Italy, Martin Falch will rekindle his friendly rivalry with Jose Antonio Abril, who lost his left arm in a car accident when he was 23-years-old. Abril won the World Cross Triathlon Championship last year (Falch was second) and Falch won it in 2019 (Abril was third).
“This is my first XTERRA World Championship and it’s incredible and amazing to be headed to Molveno and race with the best guys in the world,” said Abril, who qualified at XTERRA Portugal. “My goals are simple, first is to just enjoy it, and second is to show everyone that people like me can do hard things.”
By day, Abril is an award-winning vocational teacher in high school in his hometown of Granada, Spain. Last year, he was honored as the teacher of the year by A3 Media TV Group, no doubt due to his unwavering positive attitude and outlook on life.
“For everything, is your mind,” he said. “I’m very optimistic, and see solutions where others see problems. I’m also a very good friend, I love my family and my job, and want to show others with similar physical problems that everything is possible.”
“My goals are simple, first is to just enjoy it, and second is to show everyone that people like me can do hard things.”
Abril’s fellow countryman, Toni Franco Salas, is also passionate about helping others pursue their dreams.
“Although I have a congenital disability on my right forearm, I have NO physical limitations,” said Franco. “Ever since I was born I have been overcoming difficulties, and everyday is a challenge for me, but my motto is: If you really want, you can!”
When he’s not busy at work as a warehouse manager at Render Industrial, an international power supplies company, Franco is pushing his limits at races around the world.
"I always have three things on my mind: perseverance, personal growth, and resilience."
“I have taken part in lots of competitions like swimming across the Strait of Gibraltar, running mountain trails, orientation races, Ironman 70.3s, duathlons, and others. I always have three things on my mind: perseverance, personal growth, and resilience. Although we may find complications in our life, we have to meet them with positivity and eagerness to fulfill our dreams.”
Racing at XTERRA Worlds was a dream come true for Pablo Pomata, who qualified at XTERRA Argentina earlier this year.
“My goal in this competition, first, would be to finish it. With that I would be more than happy, but above all, I want to enjoy the experience with all the competitors in the XTERRA Family who are already winners because they said yes to sport, and yes to life,” said Pomata, who suffered a cerebrovascular accident (stroke) when he was 21 years old that affected the right half of his body.
After many years of hard work and several operations on his right arm, Pomata started walking again, then running, swimming, and finally got back on a bike.
“My right hand is still very weak as I have practically no muscles, but that makes the mountain bike part a beautiful challenge to overcome,” he said.
"I carry a message of FAITH that when you want something from the heart, there are no impossible things.”
Pomata works in construction, and like his fellow competitors in the PC division, embraces his role as an inspiration to others.
“First, I compete in XTERRA because it is a great personal challenge, but second, I know there are many people with my physical limitations in Argentina who are looking at what I do and how I am encouraged to overcome adversity. I carry a message of FAITH that when you want something from the heart, there are no impossible things.”
The youngest PC athlete on the start list is 22-year-old Tetsuki Kaji from Japan, the 2019 ITU Cross Triathlon World Champion in the PTS5 category.
He started cycling when he was just 10-years-old, and quickly fell in love with the sport. By the time he was in high school, Tetsuki was representing the Hyogo Prefecture at mountain bike and road racing competitions across the country.
Soon after, he took his talents to Belgium as a member of the Tobitate (Leap for Tomorrow) Study Abroad program, where he learned all about Belgian culture and its passion for bike races.
Having qualified at XTERRA France, one of the most difficult and arduous races on the entire XTERRA World Tour, Kaji arrives in Trentino as the 2x Paratriathlete Asia Champion.
And last, but certainly not least, is the reigning XTERRA World Champion Miroslav Motejzik from the Czech Republic, who clocked a 4:19:30 under the harshest of conditions in Maui last December.
“My goal is to win it again,” said Motejzik, who had his left leg amputated below the knee 17 years ago after a drunk driver struck him while he was walking on the side of the road.
He credits his desire to live “and live fully” for his ability to overcome the adversity he has faced.
“Life is not good or bad, it is what you make of it! And I love it.”
“Where there's a will, there's a way, and I never give up,” he said. “Life is not good or bad, it is what you make of it! And I love it.”
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