Overcome life's extreme obstacles by overcoming your State of Mind
This story comes from Women's Muscle and Fitness magazine:
Trish Downing's heart is so strong that it might just break yours. It has to be for her to achieve what she has the past couple of years: becoming the first femaleparaplegic to complete an Iron distance triathlon and only the second to qualifyfor Hawaii’s Ironman World Championship. “I just put one foot in front of theother, figuratively speaking,” Downing says modestly. But there’s more to her story than that.
Downing began to learn just how strong herheart was on Sept. 17, 2000, when the thencompetitive cyclist collided with an inattentivedriver during a training ride near her hometown of Denver. “I hit the bumper, flew up inthe air, landed on the windshield, then fell onthe ground,” she remembers. “From the beginning, I knew I was paralyzed.” She had suffereda T-4 spinal cord injury, was paralyzed from thechest down and spent the next month in a hospital ICU.Despite the unfathomable physical and emotional trauma, this former high school gymnast,college diver and USOC press officer was by nomeans ready to give up sports. Having served asa tandem pilot for visually impaired cyclists, sheknew of the opportunities for disabled athletes,and during three months of rehab she wrote tothe San Diego–based Challenged AthletesFoundation (she’s now a spokesperson) andscored grant money for a handcycle. At first,going 2 or 3 miles was a struggle, but six monthsout of the hospital, Downing completed a halfmarathon in a racing chair. “I have an athlete’smentality,” she explains. “I decide to do something first and figure out how to do it later.”With that mind-set, she tackled increasinglygnarly goals. In 2002, she finished her firstsprint triathlon (500-yard swim, 13-mile bikeride, 3-mile run) and headed to the sprint triworld championships in New Zealand the following year. Two years after that, she beganseriously considering the Iron distance — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. To appreciate the scope of this undertaking, ithelps to understand how Downing competes.To swim, she uses the backstroke because herlegs spasm so much that freestyle isn’t feasible.To bike, she pedals a three-wheeled handcyclewith her arms. To run, she uses a racing wheelchair. While other competitors spread those disciplines across the body, Downing does it allwith her now-formidable biceps, triceps andshoulders. Adding to the challenge is the expense ofequipment — her various chairs each cost thousands — and normal, everyday life without theuse of her legs. Downing’s home environmentaccommodates her — she can get around herhouse, drive and work as an internship coordinator for high school students — but traveling istricky. “Every airplane gets you on differently,every hotel room is different, couches have different heights and firmness,” she observes. “It’seye-opening how much of the world is not madefor wheelchairs.” There’s also the solitude. Inmore than 30 triathlons, she has had femalecompetition twice. “If you can’t get first placeout of one, there’s a problem,” she jokes. “What’shard is being the only wheelchair racer outthere, knowing everyone is home with their feetup drinking a beer.”Still, Downing revved up her training regimen and headed to Oklahoma City for the 2005Redman Triathlon. Eighteen grueling hourslater, she was setting her sights on the 2006Buffalo Springs Lake tri, a world championships qualifier. To make the cut, she’d need tofinish the half-distance race in 81⁄2 hours. After alonely, soul-crushing journey — one hill was sosteep, she rolled downward after every upwardstroke — Downing crossed the finish line in 8hours, 29 minutes and 46 seconds. Unfortunately, in Hawaii that October, shewas pulled off the bike course at 95 miles, having missed the bike time cutoff. What makesthis especially frustrating is that for able-bodiedracers, biking is fast and running is slow; forDowning, the opposite is true. While handcycling is arduous, she can finish a marathon ina little over two hours. “If there were just a 17-hour rule but no individual time cutoffs, I’d befine,” she says. “But I think if I put enough timein, I can make that bike cutoff. I just have tohave the perfect day to do it.” Which explains why, at 37, seven years afterher accident, she’s heading back to Hawaii thisfall. And whether she has that perfect day or not,no one can deny that within Trish Downing’schest beats the heart of a true champion.
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