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Five years ago, at the debut of triathlon in the Paralympics, the U.S. women swept the PTS2 event. In the first races of the Tokyo Paralympics, they repeated the top two steps of that podium with Allysa Seely and Hailey Danz defending their golds and silvers. Melissa Stockwell finished in fifth, after a bike accident earlier this summer.
“Five years ago still feels like a fairytale,” said Seely. “Today, I’m just so grateful.”
After a life-threatening infection in her bloodstream left her in the hospital for months earlier this year, Seely wasn’t necessarily the favorite to repeat her win—but she said she was thrilled for it to all come together.
“So many people thought it wasn’t possible even eight months ago,” she said.
The women’s PTS2 category went off just a few minutes after the men’s PTS4 racers. With categories based on severity of impairment, the PTS2 is considered the most severe impairments before the wheelchair category. Most athletes compete with a full-length prosthetic and, at times, multiple prostheses.
In Tokyo, the para-athletes compete over a sprint distance of a 750m swim, 20K bike, 5K run. Unlike the Olympic races, the para races are non-drafting—making for classic time trial bikes and strong solo getaways.
The eight women exited the water without too much separation—the three U.S. women were within 30 seconds of the leader. Danz, formerly Danisewicz at the 2016 Games, put down the hammer on the bike to try to open up a big enough lead on her teammate Seely. It looked like it might work, but then on the final two laps of the 5K run Seely was able to close the gap, and with just under a lap to go they ran shoulder-to-shoulder.
“The run has always been my strength,” said Seely. “I know there’s always a little more to give.”
She ultimately used a 21:52 5K, the fastest run of the day, to win by just under a minute.
With the U.S. athletes coming off a heat training camp together in Kona, it “felt like another day at the office,” joked Danz of going at it with her long-time teammate.
While all three U.S. women have overcome significant obstacles, the 41-year-old Stockwell added one more this summer. The mom of two is only just coming back from a bike crash two months ago, where she technically broke her back. The veteran and U.S. flagbearer choked up at the finish line.
“I’m very emotional. It was amazing,” she said. “I’m so happy, just honored to be here, so proud of my teammates.”
“It’s a journey to get here and sometimes the journey is the destination and I’m just so proud,” she said, before being asked: How do you keep believing?
“What else is there to do? You gotta believe. There’s no point in not believing.”