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Paratriathletes Walked A Hard Road To Shine on World Stage

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Blind paratriathlete Patricia Walsh, top, from Austin, Texas swims in perfect syncronicity with her guide at the ITU World Triathlon in Chcago on June 28, 2014.  Walsh won the PT5 division and is a top contender for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Paratriathlon team in Rio. -- Mike Plant photo 

With Paratriathlon set to debut at the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016, the sport has claimed a level of legitimacy and popularity not even remotely anticipated two decades ago. At the ITU World Triathlon event in Chicago on June 28, an international field of 60 or so elite paratriathletes in five categories opened the weekend's competition with an impressive show of strength, talent and unflinching support by the able-bodied triathlon community.

All this is as it should be, of course. But it was not always so. In many cases, disabled athletes had to fight their way into races, overcoming resistance that today seems pathetically contrived: insurance issues, dangers to other athletes, entrenched skepticism and, at times, outright hostility. In some cases, the battle on the race course was literally joined between wary race directors and activist athletes.

One early disabled triathlete, Jon Franks, was an outspoken pioneer, a militant activist whose manner was controversial and whose methods even his supporters often questioned. Did Franks help or hurt the cause? Would any of the paratriathletes racing in Chicago in June even recognize his name? Read the profile in the accompanying piece (PDF link below), "Angry Man In An Uneasy Chair" in the Oct.27, 1989 issue of The Plant Report . We've included the entire issue of that publication; it's an interesting look back at what blogs were like before there were such things as...blogs. – MP