(L-R) Allysa Seely and Grace Norman compete at the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials For Track and Field in Charlotte, N.C. in July 2016.
Allysa Seely and Grace Norman are excited to be part of history in Rio de Janeiro when triathlon makes its Paralympic Games debut.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the American athletes who rank among the best in the world in the sport. Each has been dominant in her classification over the past couple of years, and both are coming off victories in the recent world championships in the Netherlands, Seely in the PT2 class and Norman in PT4.
“I’m very honored to be on the first U.S. team for the triathlon,” said Norman. “I love the sport, so I’m glad it’s making its debut.”
They’re part of a U.S. paratriathlon team that has a chance to make a very large splash in the sport’s coming-out party.
“The U.S. is sending one of the strongest teams in the world for sure,” Seely said. “If the world championships is any indicator … we took the medal count there, and I’ve got a lot of confidence that we can do it again in Rio.”
But Seely, 27, and Norman, 18, have more on their minds than swim-bike-run. Each will double up by competing in track and field, too. Seely will run the 200 meters. Norman will run the 400.
Doubling up will make for a hectic two to three days at the Games that run from Sept. 7-18, but each is ready. Seely is coming off training in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Norman did her final tune-ups in Utah. They’re pumped up to double their Paralympic experience.
“I’m honored to be able to represent the U.S. in two teams, and I really hope to go out and have my best day in each sport and make us all proud,” Seely said. “It’s like a dream come true for sure. It’s hard to put into words.”
Seely: Riding a Wave of Paratriathlon Success
Seely, a Phoenix resident, goes into Rio on a roll. She’s undefeated in triathlon since August 2015 when she won a race in Edmonton, Canada. Since then she won her class at the 2015 world championships in Chicago, won in Florida and Japan and capped it off with her second world title in the Netherlands.
“I’ve had a pretty successful year, and I really hope to follow that up with a win in Rio,” she said. “It’ll be a success as long as I have my best day out there.”
Seely mostly has been an endurance athlete — she was an able-bodied triathlete at Arizona State before a neurological condition resulted in the amputation of her left leg below the knee — but had dabbled in some track events in years past and wanted to give it another try.
She had enjoyed the atmosphere at track meets and wanted a new challenge. So she started training as a sprinter, running both the 100 and 200 meters.
At the Paralympic Track and Field Trials in Charlotte, North Carolina, she won the 200 meters in her T36 category, running a personal-best 32.54, to help her lock up a spot to run the 200 in Rio. She improved her time by almost a second from earlier this year. After running the 200 in the Parapan American Games last year, Seely is eager for a new opportunity in Rio after posting more solid times in 2016.
“That was really my first big track meet,” she said. “I walked away a little disappointed, and it kind of lit a fire underneath me to improve. I’m really excited to race some of those same girls and see how I compare after all the work I’ve put in.”
In triathlon, Seely is a favorite. In the 200, she knows she’s an underdog.
“Nobody knows my name,” she says, laughing. “I haven’t raced a lot. I’m kind of the new kid on the block. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It gives me an opportunity to go out in Rio and make a name for myself without a lot of pressure.”
Seely’s triathlon race will be Sunday, Sept. 11, with 200 prelims Monday morning and the final Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be challenging, but I know I’m going to be able to recover in time,” she said. “I’ve been working with my coaches and trainers and setting up a great plan so that I am ready to go Monday morning for track.”
Track Star Norman is Finding Paratriathlon Success, Too
Norman’s two-sport schedule will be even tighter than Seely’s.
She’ll also do the triathlon that Sunday, but her 400 prelims are that night with the final on Monday.
Norman has multiple accomplishments on the track backing up her tight schedule in Rio. She finished third at the world championships last year and is ranked third in the world in the 400 by the IPC in her T44 classification, with a best of 1:02.53.
Even with the tight schedule, she believes she can give both events their due.
“I’m going into it with a good mind frame,” she said. “Obviously I’m going to give everything I can for the triathlon. I’m not going to hold anything back for the 400 because the triathlon is my main focus going into the Games.
“It’s just a lap for the 400, and as long as I get a good recover and nutrition … I should be able to come back with a decent 400.”
Norman, from Jamestown, Ohio, is heading into her freshman year at Cedarville University in Ohio, where she will run cross country and track. She’s a longtime track standout who started doing triathlons just three years ago after seeing her dad take up the sport. But she’s quickly moved up the triathlon ladder. She won a national championship in 2014, took a silver medal at a test event in Rio in 2015, won a silver at last year’s world championships and then won this year’s world title.
She goes into Rio with high expectations in the tri.
“I’m looking for gold in Rio,” she said. “Nothing is going to be easy and nothing has come easy for me, because it’s the nature of the sport. It’s a challenging sport. But yeah, my coaches and family and all my supporters have high expectations for me, and I do for myself.”
Norman’s left leg was amputated below the knee because of a congenital condition when she was just a baby. But she grew up as an active kid in an active family — her father (swimming) and mother (track and cross country) were her high school coaches. At Xenia Christian High, Norman ran against able-bodied athletes and excelled. She went to the state finals in the 1,600 meters and finished eighth, good enough for the podium.
“That was my goal and a huge accomplishment for me,” she said. “It still stands out as the biggest accomplishment in my life so far.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.