Over the last month, triathlete Jason Lester has won an ESPY and completed the Ultraman Canada Triathlon in a time of 30 hours, 48 minutes, 25 seconds. We take a look at how Lester got to where he is today.
Written by: Bethany Leach
Jason Lester’s journey to becoming an endurance athlete is impressive. Last month, he received the ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. He was also the first challenged athlete to ever qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona (other challenged athletes that compete are invited). And just a few days ago, he finished Ultraman Canada, which includes a 10K swim, 418.3K bike and 84.3K run. He’s now only the 25th athlete to ever complete both the Ultraman Canada and Hawaii Triathlons. But what makes his journey even more amazing is that he competes in these events—some of the most grueling events in the world—with a paralyzed right arm.
He started out by competing in Ironman races, but decided to apply to compete in Ultraman triathlons—race directors limit the races to only 36 participants from around the world. “We’re always trying to stretch our limits,” he said. “I thought, ‘there’s got to be something bigger than Ironman.’” After finishing 14th out of 25 in the race this week, he said, “It’s such an amazing event because it’s so intimate. It’s not about placing or PR’ing, but just trying to get everyone to the finish line.”
After being abandoned by his abusive and alcoholic mother at age three and separated from his older brother because of foster care, Lester went to live with his biological father who instilled in him a passion for sports. By 12 years old, Lester had developed into a skilled athlete living in Phoenix. In 1986, he was hit by a car and suffered 21 broken bones, a collapsed lung and injuries that paralyzed his right arm. Soon after his accident, Lester’s father died at age 39.
Inspired by his father, Lester became a star athlete in high school in running and biathlon events, ending up ranked second in the state of Arizona. Lester, who is now 35 and a resident of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, renewed his athletic passion when he witnessed the Ironman World Championship. The race energized him about triathlon and its athletes, so he started racing in Ironman and Ultraman races.
Lester also has made it one of his missions to dedicate his life to motivating others to overcome adversity through his work with the Never Stop Foundation. Lester’s foundation promotes bettering the lives of children and adults through athletics. He has also worked on creating the Adult Stem Cell Research Movement to build public awareness about technology that would improve the lives of people afflicted by spinal cord injuries and disease. “Triathlon is a very self-centered sport because we’re always trying to better our time,” Lester said. “But the past two years, my race focus has become totally different. It’s about motivating others. I have this gift of swimming, biking and running, and I want to use that gift to inspire other people. That’s what drives me.”
Lester will spend the next few months in Hawaii training to compete in the Ironman World Championship in October, and in November, he’ll try to complete the rare Ultraman double by finishing Ultraman Canada and Hawaii in the same year. “When you have your eye on the prize,” he said, “that’s what gets you up in the morning because it’s not about you anymore.”