This Athlete Is Going to Kona—But Not How He Expected

A bike accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, but Glenn Hartrick found a way to make his Kona dream come true.

A bike accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, but Glenn Hartrick found a way to make his Kona dream come true.

When Glenn Hartrick finished Ironman Texas 2014 in just over 10 hours, he thought maybe, just maybe, the next time would be The One: the one when he fulfilled a longtime dream of qualifying for the Ironman World Championship. He was so close, and he was getting faster every year. Kona, Hartrick believed, was firmly within his grasp.

Little did he know, it would be the last finish line he’d cross on his own two feet.

Just two weeks later, while on a training ride near his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, Hartrick, 36, was hit by a driver who had made an illegal U-turn. The vehicle impact instantly paralyzed him from the chest down. Hartrick would never walk again.

It was during a two-month stay at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in West Orange, New Jersey, that Hartrick began imagining a return to racing. “I was watching a lot of the Tour de France and following my friends in their races that summer,” he says. “I wanted to be back out there.”

He started by Googling handcycle marathons. It didn’t take long for Hartrick to get fitted for his first handcycle chair, which he used to compete in the New York City Marathon less than a year after his accident. A marathon was a massive accomplishment in itself, but with that Kona flame still flickering inside him, he began thinking bigger—Ironman big.

For a physically challenged (PC) athlete, getting into Kona isn’t as simple as earning an age-group slot at an Ironman race. There are only three qualifying races per year that allow a PC athlete to automatically qualify; other participants are selected by lottery, which they can enter after completing a half or full Ironman. Last November, Hartrick finished Ironman Florida in 13 hours, 11 minutes, and first among PC athletes. In May, he received word that he would be one of the eight PC athletes—four men, four women—on the line in Kona this month.

Still, dealing with the challenges of training has been difficult, and at the very least, complex. On any given training day, Hartrick switches between his regular wheelchair, his handcycle chair, and his race chair—which he uses for the run portion of a triathlon. Hartrick—who works in finance in New York City—must rely on a close circle of friends and his husband, Wayne Stephens, for every ride, run, and swim.

“It’s not like I can just hop on my bike and head out like I used to,” Hartrick says. “I can only do so much. I need help with my gear, I need help getting in and out of the pool. My friends and family have been unbelievably supportive.”

Colleen O’Donnell—who, along with her husband, Jesse, are among Hartrick’s go-to training partners and race sherpas— says it’s an honor to be a part of Hartrick’s crew and a truly rewarding experience.

“It takes a lot of manpower, but it’s never a chore,” O’Donnell says. “Ultimately, watching Glenn’s face as he rolls down Ali’i Drive is going to be an unforgettable, yet tearful, moment for the entire team behind him.”