Saturday, October 23, 2010

Triple Amputee Ironman

Ironmanlife: Rajesh Durbal

Kevin Mackinnon meets yet another incredible Ironman finisher

Published Friday, October 22, 2010

Ironmanlife: Rajesh DurbalHow's the training going? Been complaining to your buddies about that nagging Achilles tendon? The hamstring that just never seems to loosen up? Forget about it. Let me introduce you to the man who makes almost all of our excuses seem, well, inexcusable. Meet Rajesh Durbal. A triple amputee.

A triple amputee who finished the Ford Ironman World Championship a couple of weeks ago in 14:19:12.

How’s that Achilles doing now?

Born with a congenital deformity in his legs and right arm, Durbal had both his legs amputated below the knee when he was just a year old. He also had surgery to replace bones in his legs and in his partial right arm.

In elementary school one of his teachers was so inspired by his ability to participate in activities that he wrote a book about him. High school wasn’t as easy – Durbal recalls being called “every name in the book.” He still managed to become a disabled world record holder in the 100 meter sprint and compete on a disabled ski team in Colorado, though.

Durbal did his first sprint triathlon early in 2009. He competed at Ironman 70.3 Florida last May. Along the way he inspired Consuela “Sway” Lively, a triathlon coach, to start a non-profit organization called “It’s Go Time Events” to provide “financial and other support to help enable at-need individuals, or organizations supporting such individuals, to participate in selected athletic pursuits or to encourage them to pursue healthy activities and participate in active lifestyles.” (Lively, a former special needs teacher, raised money for autism last year and did Ultraman Canada with a group of friends this year.)
Lively and her crew managed to raise money and equip Durbal with some prosthetic legs (blades) that would get him through Kona. They obviously worked.

Which brings us to October 9th 2010 at that little race in Kona. A day when Durbal was the 1,640th athlete across the line at the race considered the world’s most challenging one day sporting event, and also became the first triple amputee to finish in Kona.

Thanks to Lively’s coaching, Durbal felt prepared heading into the race, but race day brought more than a few surprises.

“The swim was crazy,” he says. “I was getting beat up in the pack. They don’t cut their fingernails and toenails. Trying not to get swum over was interesting.”

Say what? So much for just surviving this thing.

Here are a few other tidbits I gleaned from a conversation with Durbal earlier today – things that will ensure that I’ll never whine about having a tough time at a race again. (OK, at least for the next week.)

“The bike ride was challenging – holding on to the aero bars with one hand in the wind is difficult,” he said. “Taking my hands off to grab a bottle in the winds … I almost got blown off my bike a few times. It scared the hell out of me. It took a real toll on my upper body from having to hold on so hard. That made the run very challenging through the first few miles. I was packing ice down my back because it was hurting so much.”

Here’s another thing I didn’t know about a triple amputee doing a marathon at the end of a 2.4 mile swim and a 112- mile bike ride: when you don’t have muscles in your legs to slow yourself down, any sort of incline is a nightmare.

“I don’t have the muscles to control my stride – it’s all core,” he says. “The whole run course felt like I was doing plank and running at the same time.”

Here’s what’s even more frightening. Like every other Ironman worth his salt, Durbal finished the race and is now looking to do another … even faster.

“I know I have a lot more in me to go faster,” he says. “I talked to my coach about doing (Ford Ironman) St. George because it’s such a hard race. I love hard races – I look for them. I want a big challenge.”

Got any aches and pains you want to complain about now? Rajesh Durbal’s looking for more challenges and he doesn’t have two legs and an arm. Seems to me he can show us all a lot about searching for our next challenge.

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