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Some TriWaco competitors have faced challenges bigger than the race

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 4:53 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Among the hundreds who gathered over the weekend to compete in the TriWaco triathlon were a man who suffered a broken neck in a car accident, a teenage girl born with cerebral palsy, a man who once weighed 360 pounds and traveled from California for the race, and a busy educator and mother of two who went on to finish the race even after it was canceled because of lightning.

“There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it…”

When Tyler resident Jayden Chapman dropped into the water from a deck on the banks of the Brazos Sunday morning to officially kick off the 2021 TriWaco Triathlon, some competitors cheered, and others cried.

The 36-year-old competed in triathlons for years as an able-bodied participant, but in 2012 he was in a car accident that left him with a broken neck and a high-level spinal cord injury that limits mobility in all four of his limbs.

Jayden Chapman.
Jayden Chapman.(Courtesy photo)

Jayden now swims with a buoy attached to his body.

He can’t kick like other swimmers, using his legs very little, and instead uses just one arm at a time to swim.

The challenge didn’t stop the nutritionist and former volunteer firefighter from making it the full 400-meter distance in the river.

“It was a really fun course,” Jayden said.

“I’ve been doing triathlons on and off since 2004 and this was the first time I’ve ever swam in a river and that current was definitely a challenging element.”

After the swim, Jayden used a handcycle for his 16-mile bike ride.

He then switched to a racing wheelchair for the 3.5-mile run.

“A racing wheelchair has no gears, and you push on the push rims with gloves to protect your hands,” he said.

Jayden finished and on Monday was back at work in Tyler at UT Health and already looking forward to next year’s TriWaco.

He said the volunteers and community couldn’t have made it a better experience.

And he had this word of advice for athletes of all kinds and all abilities.

“There is nothing you can’t do if you put your mind to it and if I happen to have that effect on anybody while I’m training or racing then that’s just an added bonus to my love for the sport.”

“Let’s go, I need my medal…”

Olivia Molnar, 16, of Lewisville was born with cerebral palsy.

She competed in the sprint distance triathlon, too with the help of a handcycle and a wheelchair fueled by sheer determination.

Olivia Molnar.
Olivia Molnar.(Courtesy photo)

Olivia is part of the USA paratriathlon national team for athletes younger than 23.

She’s did her first kids’ sprint tri in Valparaiso, Ind, when she was only 7-years-old.

She also did a mock sprint at the Olympic Training Center last month in Chula Vista, Calif., and Waco was her third.

Olivia was still on the course Sunday when lightning led to a delay and then a cancelation before many, including Olivia, could finish.

She’d finished the bike route with a handcycle and was just about to head out on her wheelchair racer for the 3.5 mile run when the race was called off.

Despite the cancelation, Olivia told her mom, after the weather cleared, she wanted to finish what she started, and she did.

“When they opened the course after the rain she said ‘let’s go. I need my medal,’” her mom, Karen, told KWTX.

Olivia left Waco with that medal proudly displayed around her neck.

“You can make a change…”

John Glaude of San Diego, Calif. once weighed 360 pounds but about eight years ago at the age of 20, he decided to make a change.

John lost 180 pounds in about a year and has kept it off.

He now has a large social media following calling himself from obese to beast.

John Glaude.
John Glaude.(Courtesy photo)

He’s taken on several physical challenges including body building, CrossFit and a marathon but TriWaco was his first triathlon.

“I just want to show people that if you are really, really overweight it’s not the end of your life,” John said.

“You can make a change and you can even go to the other extreme and do a triathlon if you want.”

There were ‘some good takeaways…”

Busy mom of two and Woodway Christian Assistant Principal Katie Messerall, 38, took on the challenge of her first Olympic distance triathlon this year after doing the sprint division since 2017.

Olympic distance includes a 1500-meter swim, a 25-mile bike ride and a 6.2-mile run.

She made time to train consistently so was very disappointed when she completed the swim and bike in great time before weather led to a cancelation before she could run.

Katie Messerall.
Katie Messerall.(Courtesy photo)

In true Katie style, she, too, went back to the track unofficially to complete the race, knowing her time wouldn’t count.

She’s already looking ahead to her next competition.

“I qualified and am competing at USAT National in Milwaukee on Aug. 7, so there are some things from my swim, bike and transitions I need to dial in for National Championship,” Katie said.

“I’m disappointed in how today ended but (there were) some good takeaways.”

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