June 5, 2003
Physically challenged athletes to compete in Heatwave Triathlon
By Lisa Uzzle Gates
Health and Research News Service
RIDGELAND, Miss.—Three years ago Ginny Boydston wondered if this Saturday’s Heatwave Classic Triathlon had a category for disabled athletes. When she was told no, her next question was, “So, how about starting one?”
Boydston, therapeutic recreation director at Methodist Rehabilitation Center, knew there was a place for disabled athletes in the sport. And she was able to prove it with the cooperation of Neal McCoy, from Ridgeland’s parks and recreation department, and some willing athletes.
Boydston said sports are an important part of life for many disabled people, and the competition goes right along with that.
“It’s great for the athletes and it creates more awareness. It gets the word out that these guys are working hard and training, just like able-bodied athletes,” Boydston said.
McCoy, special events coordinator for the city, said he welcomes the participation of the disabled athletes to the field of about 300 participants from all over the Southeast. “It’s a chance for them to showcase their abilities,” he said.
The triathlon kicks off at 7 a.m. at the Madison Landing at the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Ridgeland. Three athletes, former patients at Methodist Rehab, will make up a relay team—meaning one athlete will complete one leg of the race.
Randy Lavender of Tupelo will start off the race for the Methodist team with the half-mile swim. Lavender is an avid athlete and has competed in the Heatwave the last two years. He also participates in wheelchair racing, scuba diving, snow and water skiing and wheelchair ballet.
Lavender, a regional coordinator for LIFE (Living Independence for Everyone), said it’s important for people with disabilities to get into mainstream sports as much as possible. “We want to prove to others that there are a lot of activities you can do even with a disability,” Lavender said. “That’s part of the fun of racing. I like showing them the proof. We go snow skiing, water skiing, rock climbing. We have a ball.”
Josh Sharpe will participate in the second leg of the race, the 24.5 mile bike ride along the Natchez Trace. Sharpe always had an interest in triathlons and was a cyclist before a 1994 car wreck left him a paraplegic. He’s now a hand-cyclist. He doesn’t see his participation having all that much to do with his disability. “There are a million reasons to participate. What else would I do on a Saturday morning? It’s just my lifestyle. I’m always in training,” he said. Sharpe, a Jackson native who now lives in Florida, said sports can be another way for people who have suffered a serious injury to get their lives back on track.
“It helps you adjust back to a regular life. Sports are just as important as working a regular job,” he said.
Wiley Clark, of Moss Point, will compete in the last leg of the triathlon, the 10K race. Clark is a two-time Paralympian. Though he doesn’t compete at the level he once did, he likes to stay active. He said it’s important for disabled athletes, and those with disabilities in general, to be active and out in the community. “It’s a learning thing for all of us. We when we are out there, it brings about changes that make things better for people like me, but can also make things better for people like you,” Clark said.
Alongside these athletes will be physical therapists from the hospital who are avid athletes themselves.
Cathy Henderson has been participating in triathlons for about six years and this is her third time to be in the Heatwave Classic. She likes the community involvement the race offers and the beauty of the Natchez Trace. She also likes the component that allows the disabled athletes to compete along with everybody else. “Any time you can get the disabled community and the able-bodied community together, that is a wonderful combination. It’s good to show both sides can participate in the same event, just in a different way,” Henderson said.
Jodie Howell of Brandon and Peter Shott of Ridgeland, physical therapists, also enjoy the community involvement of the race. “It really makes it fun when you know everybody you are running with,” Howell said.
For more information:
Disabled athletes hit track | The Clarion-Ledger