Guest Blog: Darren Smith, Challenged athlete

My name is Darren Smith and I am a paratriathlete or I thought I was, well least I am according to the ITU and XTERRA guidelines…..but not Ironman classification……confusing? I just received an email from Kelly Bornemann (pasted below) in IM HQ in Florida saying that I do not qualify for the PC lottery for Kona 2012. I am just not PC enough.

I have written to Lava magazine because you are part of the Ironman family but also because you just featured the Challenged Athletes Foundation San Diego Triathlon Challenge, which I have been part of in the past, in your online magazine. I noticed, and I totally understand why, all the photos feature amputee athletes and Chrissie. I have all my limbs and I am not in a wheel chair. I am ambulatory on two legs and when I race I use an AFO brace (ankle-foot orthosis). My physician says I need to use crutches or trekking poles when I run; sometimes I do, I’m stubborn, what can I say. When you plug in all this info into the IM classification wording, I fit. I recieved an email that says I don’t.


Since 2002, when I was told I would be lucky to walk again, let alone race, I have completed IM Canada and IM Florida, been XTERRA Regional Champ twice, and have represented Canada twice at the ITU World Championships, all as a PC athlete. I have been on the podium as an AG Clydesdale and I also compete in cyclocross, track, paracycling, and dabble in one of my favourite events, Muddy Buddy.


What can Lava do, I asked myself (no worries, I usually do not talk to myself ). Maybe an article featuring those PC athletes that are collectively known as “the others/les autre”. We are still physically challenged with injuries or diseases that aren’t otherwise classified in the realm of disability, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injured (me) to name a few. Amputee and wheelchair athletes do stand out more than our invisible injuries or diseases and as I said before, I understand the reason behind the photos of those athletes in yours and other magazines. Those pictures stand out more than me and my AFO.


People run past me and usually think I have injured my ankle or knee because you can’t see my incomplete spinal cord injury. Once, due to the nature of the course, I was able to hold onto the arm of my “handler” on one run section and people assumed I was visually impaired. They don’t know that the year before I tripped and fell on that boardwalk section and received permission from the race director to hold on. During the same race, an AG athlete started yelling at my handler for “pacing” me (at 10min/mile pace) as he went flying past me. Yep, that really happened. He ran faster (due to embarrassment?) after she chased him down to show him her “paratriathlete assistant” credentials… wife can be intimidating, all 120lb of her. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of friends with amputations or complete spinal cord injuries and I wouldn’t want to change places with them, but we just don’t make headlines the way they do.


So, this isn’t a letter to the editor, but an idea for a story. As a hack writer, I might title it “The Others”. Yep, it sounds like a scary movie title, but we exist, hidden amongst the age groupers, and maybe some of us are scary (paratriathlete in a hockey players body), but we are there, racing, and in some cases, beating those AG athletes. Something I love doing BTW.


Thanks for reading. Maybe if a story comes from it, the powers at the IM Lottery program will include people like me.


Darren Smith


To read Darrens article in Ryding2Health you can go here


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