Saturday, July 25, 2009

NYC hosts U.S. Paratriathlon National Championships July 26

From Universal Sports:

Some of the best triathletes in the world will be among those filling the waters of the Hudson River in this year’s Nautica New York City Triathlon, Sunday, July 26, as the race includes the Accenture US Paratriathlon National Championships. This is the fourth year that the New York City Triathlon has hosted the national championships for disabled athletes, and this year’s field is the largest in history.

More than 50 entrants are expected to take part in the paratriathlon competition this year, making it the largest field of paratriathletes competing in one event in the world. The race is an Olympic distance race consisting of a 1500m swim, 40k bike and a 10k run.

The field includes the 2002, 2003 and 2006, ITU World Champion Aaron Scheidies (visually impaired), the 2008 ITU World Champion JP Theberge (below the knee amputee), as well as last year’s national champion in the wheelchair division, Oscar (Oz) Sanchez (pictured).

Not many parathriathletes compete at a higher level than Sanchez. “I don’t think anyone in the world is going to be able to touch Oz for a long time,” said Peter Harsh, the Paratriathlete Director for USA Triathlon. “I haven’t seen anything like it. He’s tough as nails.”

Sanchez decided to give the triathlon a try last year when one of his sponsors, the Challenged Athletes Foundation, asked him to compete in the 2008 Carlsbad Triathlon. Sanchez was already an elite handcyclist (he won a gold medal at the Beijing Paralympics in the time trial event), and was looking for a new challenge.

The former Marine used his strong swim and bike portions to win the 2008 New York City Triathlon by over 30 minutes, and he finished the 2009 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii in 5 hours 13:26.

In Kona he was 25 minutes behind the 1st place overall female finisher. He feels he can make up some of that difference simply by streamlining his transitions, which now average 15-20 minutes, to a more elite 5-8 minutes.

On Sunday, Sanchez would like to break the 2:30 mark. “If you get sub 2:30 you qualify for elite corral,” he said. He went on to explain how a position with the elites means less people to swim through, bike around and dodge in the racing chair (a custom wheelchair some paratriathletes use for the running portion). Ultimately this leads to less obstacles and faster times.

The course in New York is one of Sanchez’s favorites, primarily because of the swim. “The beauty of New York is you’re on a pier and when the horn blows you jump off,” he said.

Starting and ending on a pier is much easier for wheelchair users, than having to crawl through sand and surf. Further, in New York, the paratriathletes are mixed in with the able-bodied athletes as opposed to starting at a separate time, as in other triathlons.

“I love competing with the ab (able-bodied) guys,” he said. “When we leave at the same time like that, I sense myself being a little more motivated. You tend to have a little more oomph.”

Sanchez can also use a relatively easy bike course to separate himself from his competition before the run, which is his weakness. Pushing a racing chair takes a lot of technique that takes years to master and Sanchez has only been doing it for just over a year.

“I still hate getting in the chair,” he said. “To date the only time I’m in the chair is race day, which is not good tactics.”

The strength and size of this year’s field shows how fast paratriathlons has progressed. The New York City Triathlon has offered separate divisions for paratriathletes since 2005. The inaugural year only attracted 13 athletes. The 2007 featured the previous high mark with 47 participants. Athletes must finish in under four hours to be eligible to compete at the ITU World Championships later this year in Australia.

“This race has grown over 30% since last year,” said Harsh. “The sport is rapidly growing. With pc (physically challenged) athletes what you’re seeing is more and more athletes want to compete at a high level.”