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Paralympic gold medalist Allysa Seely promised her paratriathlon coach that she wouldn’t take on any big projects or commitments in the year leading up to the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, where she hopes to defend her gold medal six months from now.
She didn’t quite hold to that pledge, having started her two-year term as an Elite Athlete Representative on the USA Triathlon Board of Directors in January, but doing multiple things at once and doing them well is kind of her thing.
Rarely beaten on the world stage since winning the gold medal in paratriathlon’s debut at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, she says she fell in love with the sport to begin with because of the variety and the challenge it offered.
“I love the idea of having to master more than one thing to be good at the sport,” she said. “And there’s never a bad day in training because even if you have a bad day in one discipline, you’ve got two others to go and tackle.”
Seely, 31, made Paralympic history four years after making her debut as an elite paratriathlete and six years after being diagnosed with Chiari II malformation, basilar invagination and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affect her brain, spine and connective tissues.
Allysa Seely poses for a photo at Team USA promo shoot on Nov. 19, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Symptoms of her neurological condition include muscle weakness and imbalances, chronic pain, spasticity and an inability to know where her body is in space, often requiring her to look down to know which foot she’s running on or which leg is up when pedaling. Seely also had her left leg amputated below the knee as a result of complications from her condition
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But the Glendale, Arizona, native had been nationally ranked as an able-bodied athlete in triathlon, and her transition to the Para scene was rapid. She won her first two world championship titles in 2015 and 2016 in addition to winning gold in Rio.
What she remembers most about that time nearly four years ago is her family and siblings, including running down the finishing chute with her little brother running alongside her on the other side of the barricade, pushing people out of the way and screaming at the top of his lungs, “That’s my sister! You did it!”
Since then, Seely’s accomplishments include an undefeated season and a third world championship in 2018 and a silver medal at worlds in 2019.
It isn’t very often that Seely sits back and thinks about the races she’s won, but she’s working on that.
“I’m by far my own worst critic and even if I win, I’m the first to say, ‘I could improve this,’ and ‘This could be better,’” she said. “It’s taken me some time to learn to appreciate what I’ve accomplished, where I’ve come from and how I’ve grown as an athlete. This past year I’ve made it a goal to, at the end of every day, look at what needs to improve and to look at one thing I did well. It’s a work in progress.”
Seely, who has two undergraduate degrees and a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on disability and health psychology from Arizona State University, was nominated by her peers to serve on USA Triathlon’s board of directors after serving as a member of the Athletes’ Advisory Council for four years. She has a passion for governance and having a voice in where the organization and sport is succeeding and where it’s falling short, so it was a natural fit when she was asked if she’d be interested in joining the board.
She’s been to two meetings so far, she said, and right now is in more of a learning process in terms of figuring out the issues that are important both to the organization and to the athletes.
“My job is to put the athletes’ voices and the big picture together, so right now I’m just kind of learning the organizational side so that I can make sure when I’m coming to the table that I’m saying not only what we need to do but helping to provide solutions,” she said. “I hope in the next little bit to be able to start putting out more solutions to the problems we face.”
Seely is also focused on the big task this year: Paralympic gold medal No. 2.
She’ll kick off the season in Sarasota, Florida, on March 14 for the Paratriathlon Panamerican Championships, which will have implications in Paralympic qualifying. The following weekend is an ITU Paratriathlon World Cup race, also in Sarasota.
And, she promises, no new projects for the next six months.
“Nothing new until after Tokyo,” Seely said. “Right now I’m really focused on being able to be home and put in the training and the practice knowing that it’s not the results from the first half of the year that matter, it’s the results on Aug. 29 that I’m looking for. We’re just looking at all the places I can improve and where I can improve most to be the best I can on Aug. 29.”
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.