Six years ago was the worst day of my life. I was sitting in a hospital room listening to my 9 year old scream in pain and deliriously fight visions of the leg he just had amputated. I was to blame for this moment. My son’s amputation had been elective and it had been my idea. I had spent the previous months convincing my 9 year old that the congenital deformities in his leg were holding him back from a normal childhood and from doing the things he wanted to do. Of course, Jack trusted me and believed me when I told him that life with a prosthetic leg would be easier than life with the challenges of the leg with which he was born. My husband and I had to fight to find a surgeon willing to perform an elective amputation on our little boy. And, once we did find a surgeon, we were forced to fight our insurance company for months.
So, on that day, I sat there, telling myself I was responsible for that moment. I had no right to feel my own pain or sorrow. I owed it to my little boy to fix this awful situation I had caused. I closed my eyes and bargained with the universe. I begged for pain relief for my son and comfort for his confusion and terror. I promised that I would do everything to turn his story of struggle and pain into one of inspiration and triumph.
It didn’t happen overnight but, as the weeks passed, the pain subsided. Jack got stronger and settled into life with just one leg. New challenges came along with an improperly fitting prosthetic and his choice to navigate life with forearm crutches rather than the high-tech prosthetic I had dreamed he would use. Five months post-amputation, Dare2tri, a paratriathlon team for athletes with physical disabilities, held a triathlon clinic at our park district. My husband took Jack, despite my protests. I chose to stay home because I couldn’t understand why we would introduce him to a sport he would never be able to do. I thought it was cruel to show him a sport that other amputees could do, but he would be forced to watch from the sideline. At the clinic, they met paratriathletes and learned about the sport of triathlon. Jack swam and rode an adaptive hand cycle and a racing wheelchair. A world champion paratriathlete (and future paralympic bronze medalist), Melissa Stockwell, told him he had what it takes to be a champion in the sport of triathlon and he chose to believe her. He came home from the clinic with a dream and with a team as dedicated to his dream as he was.
Within weeks, Jack had completed his first triathlon using an adaptive hand cycle and a racing wheelchair. In the weeks that followed, he started seeing a new prosthetist who built him a comfortable prosthetic that Jack preferred over the forearm crutches he had been using. That fall, he learned to run with a running blade. Within a year, he was competing in youth triathlons with an upright bicycle and a running blade. Over the last 6 years, he has grown into the sport of triathlon. Jack has been a two-time USA Triathlon Youth National Champion and he was the first disabled athlete to compete in USA Triathlon High School Nationals. Triathlon has shaped who he is as an athlete and as a person. Like all triathletes, he’s had moments of triumph and moments of disappointment.
Jack has received endless support and encouragement from his Dare2tri team. And now, Zone3 North America is giving him an opportunity to share his triathlon journey and a platform to reach out and inspire other triathletes. This March, Jack has earned the opportunity to compete in his first ITU world triathlon race at the CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championship. At the age of 15, he understands that this is an opportunity to cherish, as he will be racing against the top paratriathletes from the Americas. Jack’s ultimate goal is to represent Team USA at the 2024 Paralympic games. All great triathletes know that, in pursuit of a big goal, there are many small, yet significant, steps. For now, Jack focuses on training with intention and competing with character. We are very thankful to Zone3 North America for supporting Jack and giving him the opportunity to share his story and bring encouragement and inspiration to the triathlon community.