Minda Dentler believes there’s a reason that she’s alive today. There’s a reason that she was brought from an orphanage in India by her new parents and taken to the U.S. when she was 3 years old. There’s a reason she had already survived a hard battle with polio at 6 months old—though it cost her the use of her legs.
There’s a reason her adoptive parents took her to Spokane, Washington, where she again defied the odds and survived countless surgeries on her hips, legs, and back; she eventually learned to walk with the help of crutches.
From there, Dentler excelled at school, earning a business degree at the University of Washington, and even backpacked through Europe on her own. Then, in 2008, she faced a new challenge: the New York City Triathlon.
“I only started learning to swim five months before the race,” Dentler says. “I vividly remember getting stung by a jellyfish, stopping, and questioning if my face was bleeding.” It wasn’t. She completed the Olympic-distance event—by swimming, handcycling, and using a racing wheelchair—in just over four hours. “I was so proud of myself for finishing it,” she remembers. “I immediately wanted to sign up for another race to improve my time.”
Dentler kept racing, pushing her limits more and more each year—finding inspiration and reasons and a home within the triathlon community. After finishing her first iron-distance event in 2012 at IM Louisville, Dentler decided to attempt what no other female wheelchair athlete had ever done: finish the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
Unfortunately, Dentler would join the ranks of those unable to cross the line on Ali’i Drive that year. “I started and failed to make the bike cut off,” she says. “Experience is a great teacher, and I went back to the drawing board the following year to come back even stronger, determined to finish the race.”
And like almost everything else Dentler has set out to do, she achieved the impossible in 2013 by becoming the first female wheelchair athlete to finish the iconic race. That weekend, she found something greater than herself. “At the Kona awards ceremony Chrissie Wellington pulled me aside and told me, ‘Minda, you have a platform, now go and use it!’ At first I didn’t understand what she meant,” Dentler says. “Over the course of the next year, I started sharing my personal story of having polio and conquering the Ironman.
“Chrissie inspired me to think beyond being an athlete and to use my platform to help change the world. Now I use my voice to help raise awareness about ending polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases worldwide.”
Today, a 40-year-old Dentler has set her sights on becoming the first female wheelchair athlete to do a 70.3 on every continent (sans Antarctica). She’s also an ambassador for Women For Tri—an organization that she says will “encourage females to embrace the sport of triathlon…a worldwide community of athletes that serves as a resource and support system for beginner and experienced triathletes.” Her hope is that her impossible story can reach others, regardless of the challenges they face.
“I was 3 1⁄2 when I left India. I had no hope of becoming anything because of my disability, living in an orphanage without parents, and having no education,” she says. “I have a daughter that exact same age now. Her early life is completely different from mine. My daughter has loving parents, opportunities for education, and endless possibilities. It’s clear to me that there was a reason my adoptive parents saved my life, and I am living out that purpose to be the best parent I can be and to encourage others to live their best life and not take it for granted.”