Strength & Inspiration: Triathletes push themselves in endurance sport
I recently had the honor of interviewing some Intown residents that compete in triathlons on various levels and, as a triathlete myself, I was excited to tell their stories.
Before I introduce you to these great athletes, let me tell you a little about the growth of the sport. Triathlon first debuted in 1974 in Mission Bay San Diego and was hosted by the local track club. It became an Olympic sport in 2000 and today USA Triathlon sanctions roughly 4,000 races per year. In 2010, 2.3 million people raced a tri and 1.5 million triathletes competed in two or more events.
The surging numbers derive partly from the fact that triathlon has maintained its mystique even while becoming more accessible. A race that features legs of swimming, cycling and running has an intrigue of the unknown. Once a participant has conquered their first race, they become addicted and obsessed with the details: swim technique, transition tactics and race day strategies.
Now, on to the stories.
I had a chance to meet Marshall Hamilton, who trains out of Shepard Spinal Center, and is a quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury from a car accident. Hamilton is accomplished athlete competing in wheelchair rugby, basketball, swimming and triathlons.
“I felt like it was the perfect challenge for me,” he said. “Swimming was my biggest fear, and I had to learn how to swim without a buoy.”
He helped conquer his fear by blasting rock music over a waterproof MP3 player to help him focus while underwater. He trains six days a week, and said the feeling of accomplishment keeps him motivated.
“I’m training for the US Triathlon Team, but right now I’m training to qualify for the summer Olympics in London for wheelchair racing,” he said.
By day, Danielle Grabol is a mild-mannered retirement home worker, but when she’s not in the office she’s a triathlete and Ironman competitor, which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run. By the time you read this, Grabol will have competed in a double Ironman.
What makes Grabol’s strength and endurance level even more impressive is that in 2006 she was hit by a drunk driver while on a training ride in Florida. “It crushed my left tibia and fibula and required surgery to repair my leg, and a pretty lengthy recovery process,” Grabol said. “But I came back.”
Grabol trains seven days a week, usually swimming three times a week, four bike rides a week, three runs a week and a couple of hot yoga or Pilates sessions.
Her advice to newcomers: “Cherish every moment! You will never be able to replicate the feeling of the first time you cross that finish line and you never know who you might inspire to make a positive change in their life through your experience.”
Chad Carter, owner and lead agent for Carter Family Real Estate Intown and co-owner of N-Motion Hand and Physical Therapy Clinics of Atlanta, has completed three full distance Ironmans, multiple half-Ironmans and an Olympic distance.
Carter said an item on his “bucket list” is to set a world record for number of Ironmans in one year.
“The current record is 22 races in one year,” he said, noting that breaking the record would require competing once every two weeks, although he might have to do some back to back over a three-week period. “Over the year, I would have to travel to destinations like China, Australia, and Germany then back home at ten day intervals.”
When she’s not working at the Center for Disease Control, Elizabeth Gaylor has completed three sprint triathlons, an aquabike spring and an Olympic distance.
“I was initially terrified at the mere thought of swimming,” Gaylor said. “I wasn’t a swimmer at all and started learning about four months before my first sprint triathlon. Now, my biggest fear is not being able to clip in/out of my pedals on the bike and tipping over.”
Gaylor’s drive is inspired by her 4-year-old niece, who has a congenital heart defect and underwent five open heart surgeries in the first three years of her life. “After my first triathlon I joined Ironheart Racing (ironheartgroup.com) to race in her honor,” she said. “The team is made up of endurance athletes from 43 states and six countries. Many are survivors of congenital heart defects.”
At just 13 years old, Darr has won two Iron Kids National Championships. A student at the Classical School, he is on the USAT Southeast Junior High Performance Team, an Olympic Development Team.
“I train six days a week,” Darr said. “Five days of swimming, two bike days and three run days.”
He also faced a setback that might have sidelined an athlete twice his age: nine days before the 2011 Iowa Iron Kids National Championship he was injured in a car accident. “The car was totaled and I had back, chest and knee injuries and couldn’t train for a few days,” he recounted, “but I was still able to go on and win the championship.”
Asked about his inspiration, Darr said a close friend of the family, David Guthrie, has Cystic Fibrosis and “breathing for him is like us breathing all day long through a straw.”
Darr said he could be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org “if anyone wants some help getting started or taking it to the next level.”
An editor for a motion capture company in Atlanta, Madrigal has completed two sprint duathlons and sprint triathlons, an official century ride, and a myriad of running races. She admits she knew very little about the sport until she spontaneously signed up for a duathlon in Florida, but after that she was hooked.
She remembers her first race well. “A friend took a photo as I was coming out of the water, wearing a big smile,” stated Carol. “Those 15 minutes felt like an eternity, because swimming 400 yards in a lake is something I never imagined doing.”
She has made a whole new circle of friends and is inspired “because they never give up.” She’s also realized that age really is just a number. “When I see a grandmother run past, I can’t help but smile and hope that will be me one day,” Carol said.
A mechanic at on the F-22 Raptor at Lockheed Martin, Ortiz has completed two Olympics, one sprint and one half-Ironman. He trains seven days a week and said his motivation continues to be all the fantastic people he’s met and supporting causes like Team in Training, which raises money for cancer research.
“My friends and family are my inspiration,” he said. “They give me so much support. I’m appreciative of Team in Training for starting me on the journey and allowing me to make a difference in other people’s lives.”