Completing an Olympic-distance triathlon is an admirable accomplishment. Swimming close to a mile in the open ocean, riding another 25 miles on a crowded race course, then finishing up with a 10K run is no easy task.
But the hurdles are even more formidable for a team of challenged triathletes in this year's St. Anthony's Triathlon. Four competitors from the newly formed Florida Chapter of the Challenged Athletes Foundation hope to inspire others with disabilities to participate in sports:
• Matt Bigos, a 24-year-old from Solana Beach, Calif., was a professional motorcycle racer and mechanic when, in 2003, he nearly died in a car accident.
After three days in intensive care, doctors determined Bigos had injured his spinal cord, leaving him with no feeling below the chest. Bigos was told he would never walk again. Five months later, he took his first steps on crutches.
He has since completed two Ironman 70.3 events and one full Ironman.
• Quinn Simons, a 33-year-old from Santa Fe, N.M., was attempting an unclimbed route on a remote, 23,000-foot peak in Tibet when a blizzard struck.
Snowbound in a small tent for days, Simons suffered severe frostbite and lost both feet and all of his fingers. Last year he was inspired by a wounded Army veteran who completed the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii, and Simons completed his first triathlon in March 2007. He has since done four more.
This summer, 11 years after the snowstorm, he plans to return to Tibet and finish his climb.
• Tricia Downing, a 37-year-old from Denver, was an elite road and track cyclist until eight years ago, when a car turned in front of her while she was training, shattering her back.
Paralyzed from the chest down, Downing turned to a handcycle. A pioneer in women's wheelchair triathlon, in 2005, she became the first wheelchair racer to finish a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and the 26.2 mile run of the Redman Ironman Triathlon in Oklahoma City.
• At first glance, Ryan Levinson, a 35-year-old Tampa native who lives in San Diego, doesn't look like a challenged athlete. But at 19, with dreams of professional racing, the harder he trained, the slower his times got.
Levinson was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a progressive disease that has no cure. His doctors told him to take it easy; Levinson began training harder, hoping to make it to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.
Though he beat all the "below-the-knee" amputees, Levinson didn't make the team. The ruling: He wasn't disabled enough.
Levinson has lost 15 pounds of muscle to the disease, but he has completed more than 20 triathlons. He hopes to bring attention to "invisible athletes" whose disabilities are not as obvious as a missing limb.
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