Each January, Allysa Seely creates a new personal goal in lieu of having a traditional New Year’s resolution. Six years ago, rather than choose more nebulous yet common things – reading more books, watching less television – Seely focused on a concrete and solidly physical task, one that would demand just as much endurance as it did mental toughness.
“In 2008, I said ‘I’m going to do a triathlon this year,’” she explained. “I did my first one in my freshman year of college, and I just fell in love.”
But, soon after joining the triathlon club at ASU and tasting success in early races, Seely’s path toward great athletic accomplishments was quickly diverted in 2009. Only weeks removed from her first race, and after a spate of sicknesses, doctors determined that her brain had herniated into her spine, causing both a traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. At that point, it was back to square one.
“[Running] was my strength, and to start all the way at the bottom – not be able to run 100 meters… it was frustrating,” she said.
Following surgery in 2010, and despite signs indicating that Seely might never run again, she completed another race at the Collegiate Nationals with ASU later in the same year.
“I was in the hospital, and doctors said, ‘well… you may never walk again.’ And I said, ‘no, I’m going to run again,’” Seely said. I’m pretty sure they all thought I was crazy – probably certifiably!” she joked, her words giving way to laughter.
And run she did. And bike. And swim. All the while, Seely remained vigilant about returning to, and excelling in, the sport that had captured her heart as a college freshman.
However, due to complications over the next number of years, including increasing spasticity in her foot and persistent advice from doctors, her left foot was removed in August of last year.
The adjustment to yet another physical reality is something Seely continues to work through. Thankfully, when she competes, there is little difference between the structure of the races now versus before her injury.
“In paratriathlon, we race the sprint distance event [750m swim, 20k bike, 5k run],” she explained. “Sprint distance is available to able-bodied athletes as well, and it’s actually raced very frequently.”
Para-athletes are allowed “handlers,” people who assist with things like changing prostheses and provide physical help in advancing from one stage of a race to another. Otherwise, the competition is exactly the same as in able-bodied divisions. “It’s nice because it allows us to go out and race any event in the United States without having to have special rules,” Seely noted.
After competing in Quebec in July, Seely qualified to race in the paratriathlon World Championships, held in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada later this month.
Ultimately, the long-term goal is to earn a ticket to Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Paralympics. Both Seely, and her coach at Racelab in Phoenix, Bettina Warnholtz, know that only consistent training and good performances in upcoming races will ensure a spot on the U.S. roster.
“The events that she has been doing so far, and still have to do, those are the main goals in order to reach the next goal,” Warnholtz said. “It’s been a little bit rushed as far as just getting her ready for these events, and I’m very confident that she will make the team.”
Warnholtz has been training athletes for triathlons and other major athletic competitions for fourteen years, and says Seely’s circumstances don’t create extra challenges for her as a coach.
“[Allysa] has a disability, but in many ways, she is more able than other people that we train… We just need to be very conscious of her disabilities and that the whole technique changes according to that.” Warnholtz said.
Later this month, Seely will visit SpoFit for a two-day paratriathlon clinic on August 9-10. She completes some of her training at SpoFit, and explained both the appeal of the upcoming event and the value of the facility.
“I’m really passionate about my sport and I’m really passionate about getting people with disabilities active. So, I think there’s really no better way to do it than at a place where they can be safe and comfortable,” she explained. “Coming to a place that is meant for you, and where you have people who are there to encourage you and to support you and to help you learn – I don’t think you can really put a value on that.”