Paratriathletes Shine at National Championship

53 physically challenged athletes tackle New York City Triathlon course

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Paratriathlon continues to break down barriers, with Sunday's Accenture USA Triathlon Paratriathlon National Championships attracting 53 athletes - the most ever at a paratriathlon event worldwide.

Every athlete completing the course under 4 hours qualified for the World Championships in Australia later this season.

The sport of partriathlon, formerly referred to as physically challenged triathlon, is striving to be on the world stage by the 2016 Olympic Games. What the International Paralympic Committee is looking for in a potential Paralympic sport, according to USAT Paratriathlon Committee Chair Jon Beeson, is the three R's - records, results and races. Sunday's event had a little bit of everything.

"These are athletes who want to win in the worst way," Beeson said. "They're not finishers. They're not participants. They're battling it out."

Aaron Scheidies, a visually impaired athlete, continues to show that he is not only at the top of his class in paratriathlon, but also is competitive with the top able-bodied athletes in the sport. Scheidies won his class with a time of 2 hours, 2 minutes, 15 seconds, in the 1.5 swim, 40k bike and 10k run event that consisted of a swim in the Hudson River, biking on Westside Highway and running through Central Park. Scheidies holds the paratriathlon world record at 1:58:26.

Many of the highly competitive categories, including men's below-knee amputees and women's above-knee amputees, had epic races Sunday. JP Theberge, the defending world and national champion, held off four-time world champion Paul Martin and Rivaldo Martins, the only below-the-knee amputee to go under 10 hours at Ironman. Sandy Dukat, a former U.S. Paralympic swimmer and skier, was close to becoming the first above-knee woman to finish under 3 hours with her time of 3:03:06.

Dukat, part of Team A Step Ahead, feels her role as a paratriathlete
extends beyond competing, and she was joined for the finish by a
7-year-old girl who is part of Team A Step Ahead's junior program.

"I grew up with my disability and knowing that she sees her opportunity
at the age of 7, it brought tears to my eyes," Dukat said. "There's a
lot of positive energy, trying to break down images and stereotypes
about people with disabilities, so it's more than just racing, it's
building an image of what people can do versus what they can not do."

Oscar Sanchez, who competes in the wheelchair division, was hungry to
not only win his category, but also to defeat everyone in the
below-knee category. He came close, and may have achieved his goal had
he not suffered a broken hand earlier in the season that kept him out
of action for two-and-a-half months.

"I'm building momentum and trying to get back in shape," Sanchez said.
"You don't realize how much a hand means to a wheelchair athlete but
it's everything. It's your hand, your foot, it's your limb, it's your
steering. Coming back after the injury, I was hungry."

Accenture, a company that is deeply involved in this race and many
other paratriathlon activities, is in its third year of sponsoring the
event.

"What we are all about is high performance, so we always look for
opportunities to work with others that exemplify that," said Cathinka
Wahlstrom, Accenture's NY Metro managing director. "This is an event
that we love because absolutely everyone involved is exhibiting high
performance."

While many spectators and athletes felt star struck watching top U.S.
athletes like former Olympians Andy Potts and Matt Reed compete earlier
in the day in the pro race, the elites couldn't help but be in awe of
the paratriathletes.

"This morning we shared a tent getting ready for the race, and I was
just looking around thinking how amazing it was for them to be out here
doing this," said Rebeccah Wassner, the winner of the women's pro race.
"I actually was pretty star-struck because I saw some of the people
I've read about in magazines. I guess people think that about pros, but
pros think that about paratriathletes."

Wassner won the women's race with a time of 1:58:25, nearly two minutes
ahead of runner-up Becky Lavelle. Australian Greg Bennett held off
Potts (1:46:27) and Reed (1:47:43), to win in 1:45:50.

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