Follow by Email

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Pleasant Prairie Triathlon-Para triathlon National Championship

He who has a "why" to live can bear almost any how." Fredrich Nietzsche
I wrote this article for USAT about my experience at recent para-triathlon championship at the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon on June 24th.  I submitted the article as part of my role as a USAT ambassador.

On Sunday June 24, the Para-triathlon National Championship was held at the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon, in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin.  Thirty four athletes competed in the National Championship wave and 19 in the Physically Challenged Open wave.

USA Triathlon (USAT) has created events for athletes with qualifying impairments to complete not only at the National Championship, but at any USAT sanctioned race.  I am not  aware of any other sport that offers this kind of opportunity at the grassroots level.
Anyone that competed in the National Championship wave had to meet a time standard for their class and go through a medical assessment.  I did not have an event last year that was the required swim distance of 500 meters, so I would race in the physically challenged open division.

Impairments that qualify include:
  • ·         Impaired muscle power
  • ·         Impaired passive range of movement
  • ·         Limb deficiency resulting from amputation due to trauma or congenital deficiency
  • ·         Hypertonia, resulting from cerebral palsy, brain injury, stroke or multiple sclerosis
  • ·         Ataxia resulting in cerebral palsy, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Friedrics ataxia
  • ·         Athetosis from cerebral palsy, stroke or brain injury
  • ·         Visual impairment from myopia, tunnel vision, scotoma, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, macular degeneration

This would be my 5th time racing in the PC Open division.  I have placed 1st twice in Austin, Texas and in Tempe Arizona.  I have Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) which is a genetic neuromuscular condition. 
I have a gene that over produces a protein. It causes the covering of my nerves to break down.  Imagine a road with lots of pot holes. You get a pretty bumpy ride.  The nerve break down means that it takes someone like me with CMT about twice the energy to do even everyday tasks.   I battle fatigue every day.  Because the electrical signal to operate muscles is compromised, they start to atrophy.  In my case this causes issues with balance and foot drop. I can easily trip when running. The muscle weakness compromises my swim, run and bike times.

I’ve lost most of the muscle in my forearms so my swim is slower than most athletes.
Many people with CMT wear braces to enable them to walk. I am lucky, I can still run, although much slower than I used to as my CMT progresses.   CMT also affects my breathing and I have moderate hearing loss. I have constant ringing in my ears.
I share this condition with many of my family members and 160,000 Americans. We call it the biggest disease that no one has ever heard of.  There are more Americans with CMT than ALS and as many as have MS. 

When I was diagnosed in 2011, I felt that I was so lucky that I was still so active when many with this condition struggle to write, open a jar, or button the buttons on their clothes. They are robbed of the ability to do some of the simplest tasks of life.  Many including some of my own family members keep their CMT a secret. CMT can be invisible to the casual observer.  I think sometimes other para-athletes look at me and wonder what I am doing in the competition.

So here I was still able to swim, bike and run. I felt I had been granted a gift I wanted to use to inspire those with CMT and to raise awareness.  I wanted to be an example to others with CMT to remain active. The progress of the disease can be slowed by staying active.
Before I was diagnosed I had quit competing because of slowing running times and burning feet.  I came out of retirement and began doing runs and triathlons.  I founded Team CMT to engage others in the mission. We have grown to over 200 members in 39 states and six countries.  It was once thought that no one with CMT could run, yet we have dozens of CMT affected athletes. Team CMT members have raised over $130,000 for CMT research and programs.

I go to high profile events like the Boston Marathon and National Championships to compete and write about the experience. By doing so I hope those with CMT will choose to be active and open about their condition.

This race was my first triathlon of the season.  The nice thing about racing para is accommodations are made for our abilities. For instance the swim start is in the water. No need for me to worry about my foot catching on the run into the water.

As I waiting in the water I worried. I was really tired and I always wonder if I will have the energy to get around the 750 meter swim course. The buoys always look so far away.   The first race of the year always means a struggle in the swim. I had dropped out of a swim/run race just a month ago.  Several years ago I dropped out of swim in this same race venue. I just did not have the energy. I wondered if today would be a swim success or a swim failure. If I can survive the swim, the rest of the race is much easier.

As I waited I also reminded myself I had swim twice the race distance without stopping in the pool. The gun went off and I just took it one stroke at a time.   Several times I got way off course and wasted time getting back in line with the course buoys.  About 20 minutes the swim was done.

The bike part is my favorite and the easiest. I feel like a kid when I ride my bike. I love the feel of the wind in my face.  In most races, other athletes, constantly whiz past me. In a Para race I am more evenly matched.

I was racing a tri-bike for the first time. Because my balance is compromised, I was worried about the balance. I had a couple instances when I almost lost balance, especially when I tried to take a drink of water.  My bike computer refused to turn on, so I had no idea of speed or distance.  All seemed to be going well. I had passed several athletes in my category.  Disaster struck twice when I missed a turn on the course. I had followed two other racers.  A police officer came after us and got us back on course.  Then a volunteer directed me and another athlete back on the course instead of back into transition. 
The run was very uneventful, but very nice around Lake Andrea where we had done our swim. The problems on the bike portion cost me first place.  The last time I did this race I finished in 1:43:42, today my time was 1:59:12 on a better bike. Good enough for 3rd place. The placement does not matter, what I wanted was my best race without mistakes.  I felt I had not done my best.  I will get a chance again in a feel months when I race the Iron Girl triathlon on the same course. 
No medal to show for all my work.  After waiting for 2 hours, they could not find medals for the PC open group. This happened the last time I did the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon. After two weeks and two emails I still don’t have my medal.

Someone asked me this week how I define success. For me as a CMT affected athlete, it’s crossing the finish line. Every race I start and finish is a victory.  Success is being the best athlete possible and using the ability I have to inspire and to raise awareness of the condition I share with so many others.  I race to put a name and a face to this condition.

I crossed both lines today wearing my Team CMT uniform. Hopefully my follow athletes and the spectators will take a bit of time to learn about CMT. Perhaps they will stop to consider that not every impairment is visible and that many of us have private struggles no one knows anything about. I hope they will learn that a life lived with purpose, is a great life, even with the challenges of a condition like CMT.

Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Chris is a triathlete and long distance runner. She is a three time participant of the Boston Marathon.  In 2012 she finished 2nd at Boston in the Mobility Impaired Division. She was on the course in 2013 when the bombs exploded.

She has appeared three times at the Paratriathlon National Triathlon Sprint Championship. She was the 2012 and 2014 National Champion Paratriathlon Open Division Champion.

In 2014 she was the PC Open Champion at the Duathlon National Championship and at the Aqua bike National Championship in 2016. She represented Team USA at the Aquathon ITU World Championship in Chicago in 2015 and at the World championship in Cozumel in 2016. 

 In 2014 she represented the U.S. as a paratriathlete at the Pan-American Triathlon Championship in Dallas, Texas.  She has won state championships in cycling and triathlon as a senior Olympian. In 2017 she placed 2nd in her age group at the Winter Triathlon National Championship, earning a spot on Team USA for the World Championship.

She travels around the country raising awareness of CMT.

She is the author of the book, “Running for My Life” that details her experience as a CMT affected athlete and the book “Soup Sundays, A Journey Toward Healthy Eating”.

You may visit her author page at:

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 213 members in 39 states. We also have members in Australia, England, Scotland, Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland, France, Ireland, Poland, Iran, Norway and Sweden. If you wish to join us visit our web site; or

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

Additional Link
Follow CMT affected Paratriathlete Timmy Dixon

Follow CMT Author Chris Steinke

No comments:

Post a Comment