First ParaTriathlon Under My Belt

September 16, 2012 Nickel City ParaTriathlon in Buffalo, NY

This past weekend on September 16 I competed in my first paratriathlon. The Nickel City Triathlon was held in Buffalo, NY.  I commited to this paratriathlon about 2 months ago and been training ever since.  All disabled athletes compete in the paratriathlon division. Basically, it’s the same exact sprint triathlon as the able-bodied athletes, except we started 10 minutes later in our own wave. A sprint paratriathlon is comprised of swimming a half mile (same as regular triathlon), cycling roughly 13 miles (wheelchair/paraplegics use a hand-cycle), and lastly running roughly 3 miles (wheelchair/paraplegics use a racing wheelchair).

My friend Christy came with me to Buffalo to help assist with the 2 transitions between events.  Prior to the paratriathlon we’d actually train how to quickly transition.  One of the most time consuming processes is removing a triathlon wetsuit, so Christy and I would practice removing the suit after each swim.  The day before the race we decided to take a swim in Lake Erie, where the actual event would be held the next morning. I was hoping to get acclimated to the wetsuit and open water swim, but all it did was deflate my confidence. About 2 minutes into my practice swim, just as I peaked my head out to breath, I took a splash to the face and choked on water.  To say I thought I was going to drown would be a bit of a stretch. But I will say that it was the closest I’ve ever been to feeling vulnerable.  After the coughing and choking subsided, I attempted to regain composure and finish the practice swim.  I quickly realized that the triathlon xterra wetsuit wasn’t allowing me to take full deep breaths. Yes, I should have been practicing with the wetsuit everyday for the past 2 months, but that wasn’t the case.I was just realizing a serious breathing issue with my wetsuit.  If I couldn’t breath I couldn’t swim… I returned to land quickly, frustrated and deflated.  After drying off I made a last minute decision to NOT wear the wetsuit during the race. The water was between 65-70 degrees. I came to the conclusion that I’d rather be breathing and cold, rather than not breathing and warm.. I couldn’t sleep all night. Nervous about the last minute change I began to worry about the cold.  Keep in mind, I’m from South Florida.  The only cold water in West Palm Beach, FL is in a drinking cup with ice.

The next morning was no better. I was still worried and nervous about the cold swim.  About 10 minutes before the paratriathlon started I made yet another last minute decision to swim without a tri-top. Figuring all it would do was keep me wet and cold after the swim, I decided to swim in only leg tights.

On my way to starting point in Lake Erie.


Start of 2012 Nickel City ParaTriathlon in Lake Erie from Jacob on Vimeo.

A few minutes later we were hopping, yes I said hopping, from our wheelchairs into the water.  I quickly realized that all my worrying was for nothing, as is most of our worrying in this life.  The water tempature wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be once we got moving.  At the start, all competitors were swimming into each other, fighting for a straight lane.  After the first 100 meters it felt like I was all alone.   In the end, the 750 meter swim took me 19:14 to complete.

After a quick transition from lake to land, I hopped (yes hopped) onto my Top End Force-R hand-cycle to begin the 13 mile hand-crank ride.  Hand-cycling is the event I’m most comfortable with, and I was suprised to still have a decent amount of gas in the tank.  All I could think of was the advise my coach had given prior to start.  He said “You’re a predator.. Chase your prey”… During the hand-cycle ride I could always see someone up ahead.  I just kept chasing the prey in front of me.  Once I caught them, it was on to the next one.  About halfway through the ride my arm muscles were burning. And even worse, my right elbow had a deep pain which I’ve never experienced before.  With the pain becoming debilitating, I found myself looking up at the blue sky, speaking out loud to my best friend Stu who recently passed away.  I didn’t ask him to take the pain away. Instead I asked him for strength to persevere and get through it.  I don’t know if my old friend was listening, but I do know the strength to push forward was suddenly with me…  I miss you Stu..  My final time for the 13 mile paratriathlon hand-cycle portion was 40:07, with an average speed of 18.6 mph.

As I pulled my Force-R hand-cycle into the transition area the gas tank was running on fumes… After a short 1:19 transition to my Top End racing wheelchair, it was again off to the races.  With only 3 more miles to go in the racing wheelchair, I could taste the finish line.  Paraplegics and quadriplegics in wheelchairs use a racing wheelchair for the running portion of a paratriathlon.  Leading up to this event, I had only trained with my brand new Top End racing wheelchair 4-5 times max.. With that being said, I didn’t “run” too fast.  In the end, I completed the racing wheelchair (running) portion of the paratriathlon in a total of 19:28, with an average of 6:17 per mile. Below is a short video crossing the finish line in my Top End racing wheelchair.

Crossing finish line in Racing Wheelchair at ParaTriathlon from Jacob on Vimeo.

My ultimate goal for this paratriathlon was to qualify for nationals in Austin, TX next May.  To qualify for nationals I needed to finish the entire paratriathlon in under 2 hours.  I was suprised when my friend Christy said my final time was 1:21:10.  I had set a goal, worked hard, and reached it.  Money can’t buy that feeling..  Oh, sooo sooo sweet:)

IMPORTANT: If you or someone you know may be interested in get involved in paratriathlons please shoot me an email at  They are held all over the world, and all disabilities are allowed to participate.  If you’re looking for a challenge, I dare you to give paratriathlons a try. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Chris Wodke

    Good job on the finish. I am hoping to classify into T3. I did compete at Nationals last year in Austin. It is a great course and event. You are going to love it. See you there. Chris Wodke Founder Team CMT

  • Marcy

    YOU ROCK CUZ!!!!! You continue to amaze me and I can not tell you what an inspiration you are to my kids! We love u!!!

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