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My Road to Paratriathlon

By Danielle McLaughlin | May 25, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

With Scout Bassett.

I’d like to think I’ve always been an athlete. I had a lot of energy growing up so my mom threw me into any sport she could. I developed a passion for soccer and running early on. I played competitively for a while and then scaled back to simply running after I moved from Colorado to San Diego, California in eighth grade. A major reason I quit soccer was due to an excruciating pain in my left foot that I had been dealing with for as long as I could remember. I had seen many doctors but not one could diagnose the problem.

When I moved to San Diego, we decided to see one last doctor. He suggested a biopsy and a few short days later I was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma. I was 16. I went through radiation treatments and was put into remission. Less than one year later, my tumor returned.  Several weeks before my 18th birthday and the beginning of my senior year of high school my left foot was amputated. Life continued on and I went off to UC Davis for college.

I spent much of my time after my amputation missing sports. After I graduated and returned to Southern California, I learned about Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and the fantastic things they were doing for physically challenged athletes like me. I attended one event and was so inspired by the accomplishments of other amputees! I had no idea how much was possible. I applied for a CAF grant for a running prosthetic and set my first goal (which was also my New Year’s resolution): finish a triathlon. CAF also set me up with another female amputee to mentor me and help me work toward my goal.

After winning the TRI-5 division in New York in 2011.

After completing my first triathlon, I was hooked! Later that week, I found out I received the CAF grant for my running prosthetic. That was a day I will NEVER forget. Now armed with my running prosthetic, I had the equipment I needed to do well as a paratriathlete. I was fortunate enough to attend CAF’s Paratriathlon Camp. After attending the camp and meeting so many accomplished paratriathletes, I decided to focus on paratriathlon with the hopes of earning a spot on the USA Paratriathlon National team. I began training with Coach Bernard Baski at TriFit Club & Studios and signed up for the USA Paratriathlon National Championship.

In August 2011, I raced in New York City at the USA Paratriathlon National Championships. Not only was this my first trip to New York, it was also my first triathlon using my running prosthetic and my first Olympic-distance triathlon. I finished in first place in the Female TRI-5 division (below knee amputees). This race qualified me to race at Paratriathlon World Championships in Beijing!

Having the opportunity to race in Beijing, as a member of Team USA was something I never imagined would be possible when my foot was amputated. It was such an amazing experience to race abroad with paratriathletes from all over the world. It was a great course and I came back to the U.S. with a gold medal!

With Melissa Stockwell in Beijing.

This Monday, I will race along with almost 70 other paratriathletes at the USA Paratriathlon National Championship race in Austin, Texas. Not only am I looking forward to seeing other challenged athletes I haven’t seen since we raced together in Beijing, but I am also excited to see how the field of paratriathlon has grown in anticipation of its inclusion in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. I hope to have some of the success I had last year but I feel privileged just to be able to race among this incredible field of athletes who have overcome so much.