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Elite Paratriathlete Gives Thoughts on Paralympics

Triathlete.com sits down with Paul Martin, a paratriathlon world record holder and world champion.

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Paul Martin is a four-time ITU world champion in paratriathlon and the leg amputee world record holder for an Ironman event with a 10:09:17. Given his success, triathlete.com decided to sit down with him to get his thoughts on paratriathlon recently becoming an event in the Paralympics.

By Courtney Baird

Triathlete.com: What were your thoughts when the news broke that paratriathlon would be an Olympic sport?

I think it’s a legitimate time to become a Paralympic sport. I understand why it’s taken this long. It needs worldwide participation—you need all the people participating. Now that it’s here, it just shows that triathlon is a sport that transcends so many different aspects of human sport. People with disabilities—whether you’re in a wheel chair, blind, or missing a part—can swim bike and run. Triathlon is the world’s fastest growing sport, I believe. It tests their abilities on different levels. Paratriathlon is a great way to test what you still have despite having this setback—I can still swim, bike and run. It’s addictive and it calls to all the masses [to be able] to say, “I can do this.”

Triathlete.com: You are the four-time ITU world champion. Are you shooting for the Olympics now that paratriathlon is a sport?

I doubt it. I think I’ll be a little too ancient by then. I’ll be 49 in 2016.

Triathlete.com: You’ve been to the Olympics already in cycling, where you won a silver and bronze, what was that experience like?

Phenomenal. Particularly the first moment—I was doing the kilo on the track and sitting on my saddle as the clock ticked down for 30 seconds. All that stuff that went through my head—how the hell did I get here? Losing my leg obviously was a critical component to me becoming an Olympic athlete. A mistake I made 8 years earlier led to this very empowering moment.

Triathlete.com: How did you lose your leg?

I’m not the least bit proud of it: I had a few beers and fell asleep at the wheel. [But] I didn’t beat myself up and say, “Why did this happen to me?” It was pretty obvious why. It’s almost good when you do this to yourself because you have no one else to blame. You can only take responsibility and do something with it. There was never finger pointing. I messed up, [so I] just [had to] make something good out of it. I knew I had some endurance capabilities. Through this, I found out I could go long. I appreciate the fact I’m missing a leg, that’s for sure.

Triathlete.com: You are a 10X Ironman finisher? Can you tell us a little bit about your Ironman experience?

Here’s the short story on my triathlon career: [My goal was a sprint] two or three years after I lost my leg. It was a challenge to see if I could do one. It was very addictive: “Can I go longer and faster?” I began pushing myself to see if I could go the Ironman distance. It was three years until I got into Kona and I finished in 11:55:37. As much as we suffer out there, once you finish, no matter how much it sucked, you can’t wait to do it again. Never in my wildest dreams while I was lying there did I think I would do 10 Ironmans. I just wanted to walk again.

Triathlete.com: How much training are you getting in these days?

I am training to take care of three children at the same time. At best I’m taking a hiatus from the serious miles. My wife works so much and that stuff takes priority.

Triathlete.com: Back when you were training a lot, what was a typical week like?

I can say 20 to 22 hours of actual training time was pretty average for Ironman preparation. It was a couple days of swimming, two maybe three days of running because the stump takes a beating, and then four or five days on the bike. What a lot of people don’t understand is that it takes about 30 hours to do that [because of the] preparation and going to the pool [and other things like that.] That was definitely a fulltime gig for a long time.

Triathlete.com: Is there anything you’d like to add?

I will only say that I think the Paralympics—I don’t know what you know about the international recognition of the Paralympics, but it gets a lot of play in every other country but the U.S. In the U.S., people don’t know about it or can’t find it on TV. I think this sport of triathlon will really help us help people identify with the Paralympics. The average Joe, when he sees someone running down the street with a prosthetic leg, it will be something he can relate to. [Having paratriathlon in the Paralympics] puts a better face on the Paralympics in the U.S.