Disabled athlete inspires: Quadriplegic endures in completing triathlons
In the eight or so years that I've either participated in or covered (or both) the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series, I've witnessed plenty of people overcoming obstacles -- cancer, accidents, age -- to complete a triathlon.
But I think the bar just got higher.
When race director Paul King told me about Thomas Sessions last week, I had to meet him for myself.
Sessions, who is 28 and works at SPAWAR, broke his neck in a power skiing accident on May 31, 2008, at the Short Stay Navy Outdoor Recreation Area on Lake Moultrie, where he also nearly drowned. Because the break was to the neck segments of C6 and C7 and because he has no feeling from his armpits down, Sessions today is technically a quadriplegic even though he has use of his arms.
His road to recovery, as expected, was long. Because of damage caused by water inhalation, Sessions was on a ventilator for a month and underwent extensive treatment at the Shepherd Center, an Atlanta-based hospital specializing in brain and spinal cord injuries.
As he started putting his life back together, the former adventure racer decided to try doing triathlon.
"Why? I don't know," says Sessions.
He started with getting advice from Carlos Moleda, perhaps one of the most accomplished paralyzed triathletes in the nation. The Navy SEAL was paralyzed in a firefight in Panama in 1989. Moleda helped Sessions figure out how to swim without the use or control of his core and lower body, which he describes as "dead weight." A wetsuit adds buoyancy.
For cycling, Sessions uses a hand-cranked recumbent bike. For the run, he uses a racing chair commonly seen in road races. But he couldn't do it without someone to accompany him and help in transitions during the race.
At the last few sprint triathlons, former SEAL and fellow Citadel graduate Jesse Wiseman helped Sessions. They work at SPAWAR together, and Wiseman used the opportunity to get back into shape.
"After I left the military, I got out of shape," says Wiseman.
Since April, Sessions has finished the Mount Pleasant Sprint Triathlon and all five triathlons in the Charleston Sprint Triathlon Series, which he likes simply "because it's here."
His season may not be over. Sessions is thinking about doing the inaugural Loco Sprint Triathlon on Saturday on Daniel Island. (http://www.setupevents.com/?fuseaction=event_detail&eventID=1908).
Sessions says he enjoys triathlons and frequently gets encouraging words from participants and spectators alike.
Like many who inspire, he doesn't seem to understand, or acknowledge, why people look up to him. I guess that's the way it should be.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.