Meet Danielle McLaughlin our SOAS team member and Paratriathlon World Champion. A paratriathlete is a physically challenged triathlete. Some are amputees, have paralysis, MS or any other type of disability. They are classified by USAT and ITU and then placed in different divisions. Danielle races as a TRI-5 which means she has a moderate leg impairment.
Paratriathlon will make its debut at the 2016 Paralympics. Right now the focus is on building the sport and trying to recruit more paratriathletes. From Nationals in 2011 to Nationals this past May, the numbers have doubled! It is a growing sport and each race gets more competitive.
A bit about Danielle: She’s 25 and originally from San Diego, CA. She attended UC Davis for college and currently lives in Santa Monica, CA and works at the University of Southern California. She’s a below-knee amputee and cancer survivor (and darn proud of it!). She is the 2011 National and World Champion for her division. And that was her first year racing! When not training, she is advocating for Young Adult Cancer Survivors, hiking, traveling, or hanging out with friends. She loves traveling, though and that has come in handy since traveling so frequently for triathlon!
Danielle lost her leg to synovial sarcoma in August of 2004. “I was originally diagnosed in June 2003 and put into remission but the cancer returned much more aggressively in late July and we were forced to amputate. I was almost 18 and this was a week prior to the beginning of my senior year of high school. I went from living an active lifestyle to learning how to walk again. I missed sports a lot after the amputation but did not know what was out there for amputees.”
She decided on racing her first triathlon as a New Year's resolution. She had been spinning 5 -7 times a week and was completely addicted/obsessed with it. She started running a bit because it had always been a love of hers before the amputation. It was tough to run because she was running on a walking prosthetic. “It only seemed natural to me to do a triathlon if I was working at 2 out of the 3 sports! I did my first triathlon in April 2011.” At that triathlon, she was approached by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) to attend a paratriathlon camp in Pensacola, FL put on by MultiSport Performance Institute. There, she was mentored by Amy Dodson, another below-knee amputee who races triathlons. “I learned a lot about racing and the abilities I had (learning to focus on what I COULD do rather than what I couldn't do). And I was hooked!” Challenged Athletes Foundation gave her a grant for a running prosthetic (some cost upwards of 20,000 dollars and insurance does not cover them). She started working with a coach (Bernard Baski, owner of TriFit Club & Studios) and bought a bike! “I haven't stopped since!”
Danielle recently took first in the TRI-5 division in Edmonton at the Inaugural PATCO Paratriathlon Championships! Up next, hopefully a local race in Southern California and then off to ITU Paratriathlon Worlds in Auckland, New Zealand in October to defend her title.