Winning the New York City Triathlon Race

This is the story of Catherine Van Staden, CBM’s Global Accounting Systems Project Manager. A story about how persons with disabilities can engage in international sports disciplines and win. An inspiring story of how hard work and not giving up pays off.

"Beep Beep Beep" shrilled my alarm clock at 3 a.m. on 24 July. After almost 3 years, this was the day I could race again. Before that day, and due to COVID -19, there were no races. Now that everything is different, I could not think of a better competition to start racing again than the Oscar of paratriathlon, the New York City Triathlon. As Frank Sinatra saying goes, "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere!"

The famous New York City Triathlon consists of swimming in the Hudson River (1.9 kilometres), cycling on the famous Brooklyn Highway (40 km) and running in Central Park (10 km)!

What I loved about this race was that I was among my fellow Paratriathletes – athletes with disabilities such as the visually impaired, amputees and wheelchair users. There is nothing more fun than hanging out and racing with "your own kind". There were about 10 of us in total. One needs a sense of humour when you are in a room with some of us.  On a lighter note, you can hear comments in the room.

"Do not forget my leg at the swim start, I need to have a leg when I come out of the swim exit".

"Just put the leg in one of the wheelchairs and push it to the swim exit. That leg weighs a tonne, it will roll faster on wheels"

One thing I have developed over the years is a sense of humour about my disability. Without it, life would be a little tense, serious, and boring!

Swimming, Biking and Racing

New York was in the middle of a heat wave that our race was almost cancelled. Luckily for us, they only cut the bike and run distances in half.

At 4 a.m. we set off for the first leg (excuse the pun) of the race, the swim. The paratriathletes get the same VIP treatment as the pros, and of course, we are absolute pros!

The swim distance from point to point is 1.9 kilometres and the flow of the Hudson River determines the starting point. You swim downstream with the current of the river, which makes it easier to swim like a fish. My swim started well, but halfway through I started to slow down. I had put on my full wetsuit and it was getting too hot. When I came out of the water, I was boiling hot!

There is no better way to cool down than to get on the hand bike and cycle 20 kilometres.

The cycling was fast because the terrain was flat though sometimes uphill. You do not notice the incline until you apply the brakes and start flying downhill.

Then it was off to the run, which was 5 km long! I was determined to make it without anyone pushing me. I had a cyclist riding next to me for support. We had a good system: I pushed and pushed, and when I needed a break, he stood behind my chair so I did not roll back. This worked wonders and we slowly made it up two very steep blocks!

Rewriting my losing streak

Let me paint you a picture of my racing history. When I started in 2013, I was always last. I would come in from cycling, the others were already packed and leaving. The ambulance and the fire trucks drove behind me. The same thing happened at a race I did in May this year. I was the last cyclist on the course and the traffic police rode with me to the end. In many of the races I participate in, there are no other athletes with disabilities. This means that I am racing with athletes without disabilities all the time and finishing last was my reality. In New York, I was determined not to be last on the track.

Crossing the finish line 1st place

At the New York City Race, I was running in Central Park, with crowds on the sidelines cheering me on, which meant I was not last. If there are still supporters out there, then there are other athletes. As I turned onto the final stretch, I saw the ribbon. This meant that I was about to win my category. I knew I was competing against myself. I was not last, I really pushed hard and was determined to cross the finish line without an ambulance, fire truck or traffic police behind me.

I crossed the line and ran through the tape to take 1st place.

I won the race! I won!

God's grace, His grace gets us to the start of the race, His grace keeps us in the race, and it is His grace that takes us across the finish line. As John Newton put it in his famous hymn: "Grace has brought me safely this far, and grace will lead me home.

I crossed the finish line; I finished well, and now I can say that I won the New York City Triathlon.