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Road Warriors Cycling Team Is Helping Chris Marston On His Paratriathlon Journey

By Joanne C. Gerstner | Dec. 06, 2020, 9 a.m. (ET)

Chris Marston smiles in a selfie with his bike. 

Chris Marston’s journey to becoming an elite paratriathlete started with an email out of the blue. He had reached out to USA Triathlon in 2016 by filling out an online interest form. Back then, he was more of a runner than anything else, but he was curious and wanted to try the sport. 

His enthusiasm was met with … cyber-silence. Marston moved on with his life in Richmond, Virginia, sticking with running.

Then return email came, in summer 2019: would he still like to try paratriathlon?

“I was shocked, it didn’t seem possible after all that time that they were remembering me — but they did,” Marston, 39, said. “I was actually pretty stunned. Told my wife Keri about it, saying, ‘I’m going to be running more, I’m going to need to find a pool to swim in and it looks like I am biking more.’

“She said, ‘If USA Triathlon is serious about you doing this — you have to go do it.’”

Marston found a good home to help hone his cycling.

Sportable, an adaptive sports community non-profit group in Richmond, recently founded a competitive cycling team called the Road Warriors. Marston trains both with the Road Warriors and other area road cycling teams.

“As I said to Chris, Sportable would and will help in any way we can,” Kyle Hitzelberg, Sportable’s program manager, said via email. “Be it something small like finding a track for him to have access to closer to home or continue to provide a training environment that he's accustomed to, we'll do it. Even though we don't have a huge financial capacity to support individual funds, if push came to shove and Chris needed support to meet this goal, we'd find a way to make it happen.”

Support like that has helped Marston on his journey. He recently attended his first Team USA  paratriathlon camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and entered his first races.

Becoming a paratriathlete took a little engineering. His bike has been modified, putting the brakes and shifters on the left side to accommodate his lessened right-hand strength from cerebral palsy. The crank arms now align to his different leg lengths.

“Those things really made a difference for me, it was immediate,” Marston said. “I am not going to be the best in the run, or the bike, or the swim. I’m not going to blow people away, but when I put together everything I do with my times and splits, it works. I like the endurance and strategy elements of triathlon.”

Hitzelberg is deeply involved with Marston’s training. He recently timed Marston through his virtual combine and was thrilled with his splits.

“Everything about Chris's dedication to his sports impresses me,” Hitzelberg said. “His focus on training, wanting to excel at each discipline and literally finding ways to continue this journey through COVID-19 is more than impressive.

“I'll be quite frank, with or without Sportable, Chris would be making strides to becoming part of Team USA. I'm just glad our organization can help him as best as we can to meet that goal.”

Marston is targeting the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris. He cannot qualify for 2021 Tokyo, because the window for earning qualification points closed before he could get enough races in. He has tried his best to compete this year but, like most around the world, was foiled by COVID-driven cancelations or postponements of competitions.

This may actually work out for the best, as it will give him more time to gain competition experience.  

He has loved sports all his life but was challenged by being differently abled. He played youth basketball and baseball, and competed with his brothers and friends. But he knew he was not the same, and that anguish was hard on his self-confidence. 

“My friends and my brothers and others did some of everything, so naturally I always had to figure out ways to modify or do things to get around myself,” he said. “I never could do things the same way they did, and that got to me over time. I got depressed.”

He discovered track in high school and found a haven in running. 

The years went by, and Marston settled into a typical life: work, getting married, raising two kids and running when he could. Exercise and strength training help keep CP from making him stiff. But running has been hard on his body. Now adding swimming and biking, less-punishing sports, means he can find a better balance for his health. 

Rediscovering his competitive, athletic self is a joy he never thought could be possible on the eve of his 40th birthday. Marston’s life has been about adapting and finding ways to succeed, and now his rising paratriathlon career will have to work around another challenge. 

His wife, Keri, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 — right around the time the magic email invitation came from USA Triathlon. She went through surgery and treatment, and was declared to be in remission. 

This past October, that changed: Keri’s cancer is back, now Stage 4 and metastatic. She is starting new treatments, aimed to keep the cancer from progressing. Marston and their two daughters, Rebecca, 11, and Rachael, 8, are trying to live life with hope. 

Marston’s training friends also are rallying around the family. 

“I honestly can't imagine placing myself in his shoes with so much going on and being able to continue focusing the way he does,” Hitzelberg said. ”He's got a huge heart for his family and I'm glad there is some solace in training. … 

“Our teams are a family regardless of position, ability level, classification or anything else. The Road Warriors will look out for Chris and his family. I know he knows that.”

Joanne C. Gerstner

Joanne C. Gerstner has covered two Olympic Games and writes regularly for The New York Times and other outlets about sports. She is a freelance contributor to USParaCycling.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.