– Paratriathlete and Motivational Speaker –
“No matter what your goal is, the first step is to believe in yourself.”
Tricia Lynn Downing lives in the State of Colorado in the USA. From an early age, she was hooked with anything to do with sports, from PE in school to her after school activities. When she was four years old, her mom took her to the first swim lesson. As a non-swimmer herself, Tricia’s mom had the goal of turning each of her four children into swimmers; recreational ones, at least. Her mom wanted Tricia and her siblings to be safe in the water, but at the beginning, it didn’t turn out well. She screamed and kicked and threw up in the pool just to make her mom get Tricia out, and she got resigned to the fact that as a four year old, Tricia would not learn to swim. But what a difference a year makes!. The next summer she would come back and embrace the water and spend hours at the pool with her three brothers, and she joined the swim team at seven years old and earned blue ribbon after blue ribbon in the breaststroke.
Eventually, Tricia added gymnastics to the mix as her “winter” sport and that’s where she truly fell in love. The challenge and excitement of the sport captivated her, so she would forever call herself an athlete. Tricia competed in swimming and gymnastics all through high school and wanted to continue gymnastics in college, but by that time she was 5′ 10″ and just too tall to really make it in the sport, so she joined the diving team at the University of Vermont and even though she had only the experience of playing on the boards at the summer club, she worked her way up on the team quickly because of her gymnastics. She was transferred after two years and her competitive sports took a hiatus for many years, but she went to grad school in 1995 to study sports management and that was the beginning of a whole new career for Tricia, both professionally and as an athlete.
Downing got an internship at the end of her program at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and was assigned to the USA Cycling Team. She didn’t know anything about cycling at the time, but she ended up loving it and she was determined to learn how to ride on the track (velodrome) which is where she spent most of her summer. A women’s clinic came around and she jumped on the opportunity and never looked back. But she was encouraged to get out on the road to train all the miles she needed, so she did and ended up racing on the road too, as well as some cyclocross.
It became a passion and obsession and she was determined to make something of her cycling career, but in one instant, on September 17, 2000, just after an amazing summer of traveling the country to race, Tricia went from being a competitive cyclist to a paraplegic requiring a wheelchair for mobility. She was hit by a car and paralyzed from the chest down… she broke several vertebrae, two ribs, her scapula and a vetebrae in her neck. Tricia wasn’t sure what the rest of her life would hold. Her life was changed forever.
Tricia’s competitive spirit and zest for life continued on. Through her experiences in both rehab and racing, Tricia has overcome adversity and learned what it takes to perform at the top of her game. Now as a world-class physically challenged triathlete, Tricia travels the globe racing and sharing her message of strength and perseverance.
Fortunately, as a bike racer she had participated with athletes with disabilities in events before. She was a tandem pilot for blind cyclists and raced in the 1998 World Disabled Cycling Championships. On that team she met several wheelchair athletes, and those were the people who helped Tricia find her way again after her accident. She also had great recreational therapy at Craig Hospital and found there was still a lot of life to live. She thought she would compete in hand cycling when she got out of the hospital, but she found that only got her depressed to go back into a world that she could no longer navigate the way she wanted (hand cycling races are usually held in conjunction with able-bodied cycling races) and it was just too hard for her. So Tricia changed the landscape a bit and started competing in triathlons.
Tricia has completed in over 100 races, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons since her accident. She was the first female paraplegic to complete an Ironman triathlon which consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, and qualified for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in 2006 and 2010. In 2011, she competed as part of the U.S. Rowing team at the World Championships in Bled, Slovenia.
As the first female paraplegic to complete an Ironman Triathlon, Tricia knows that life is an endurance sport. In her presentations, she engages her audiences by sharing stories of her athletic adventures and the lessons that have not only gotten her to the finish line, but are applicable in daily life for anyone who strives to succeed despite the obstacles along the way.
Tricia’s professional life has also been immersed in sports as she earned a master’s degree in Sport Management in 1995 and worked at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. She was the press officer for the USA Table Tennis team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and for the USA Swimming team at the 1997 World University Games in Italy. Before becoming a professional speaker, she taught high school in the Denver Public Schools. Today she takes people on their journeys from start to victory, motivating each person to discover his or her own “inner champion”, just as she has. She has received many sports accolades including being inducted into the Sportswomen of Colorado Hall of Fame, the 2006 Most Inspirational Athlete from the Challenged Athletes Foundation www.challengedathletes.org and the 2008 Courage Award from the Tempe Sports Authority. Tricia has truly excelled despite her life-altering injury.
In addition to her current sports pursuits, Tricia has completed master’s degrees in Disability Studies and Sports Management. She is also the Director for Camp Discovery, a camp for women in wheelchairs who want to explore fitness opportunities as well as create a support system of other women who have experienced mobility disorders/disabilities. In addition, she has published her memoir: Cycle of Hope—A Journey from Paralysis to Possibility which debuted in June of 2010. She is now recognized as a pioneer in the sport of women’s paratriathlon, which is the sport of triathlon for athletes with disabilities. She was featured in the Warren Miller documentary Superior Beings and on the lifestyle TV magazine show Life Moments. She has also appeared in Muscle and Fitness Hers, Mile High Sports, Health and Wellness, Women’s Adventure, Rocky Mountain Sports magazines and more.
Tricia’s fantastic book, Cycle of Hope: My Journey from Paralysis to Possibility, who turns her misfortune into opportunity, is now available here.
Tricia founded Camp Discovery in 2009, nine years after sustaining a spinal cord injury, a place where limits are left behind and a new freedom is discovered. This three day all female camp is designed to teach women in wheelchairs physical fitness while creating lasting friendships with those who have had similar experiences and obstacles. The camp hosts over 20 women each year and takes place at the beautiful Rocky Mountain Village in Empire, Colorado. For more information, please visit www.campdiscoveryco.com.
Tricia in her own words
How does it feel to be an inspiration to others? Did you ever expect to become an inspiration?
I never expected to become an inspiration to others, but I know that’s how many people view me as a result of my disability. I prefer to be known for my athletic skill and determination, but I think whatever it takes to inspire others is great.
Why are Triathlons so inspiring? What makes this sport so special around the world?
Because anyone can do it. And you can compete against yourself or others. You can get anything out of it you want: fitness, personal accomplishment, competition, self-confidence and more.
When did you start participating in triathlons? Where was your first competition?
My first triathlon after my injury was in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It was a sprint and it was such a great sense of accomplishment because I didn’t know if I’d ever race again.
What motivates you in life?
Wanting to continually be a better person in everything I do. I am competitive and want to get the best out of myself. In addition, since I feel like I was given a second chance at life, it makes me want to take advantage of that and reach for the stars!
What would you say to other people with similar ambitions?
That no matter what your goal is, the first step is to believe in yourself. I feel like there have been times when I have let other people set limitations for me, but I find I am at my best and my happiest when I pursue goals for my own personal reasons and believe in myself.
Who inspires you? Why?
I am inspired by anyone willing to go out on a limb, take risks and try to achieve their personal best in everything they do.
How did you deal with obstacles in your life?
It sounds cliche, but all you can do it take it one day at a time. I always have goals in front of me and I make it a point to find things to look forward to. Without envisioning the life you want to live, I don’t think you’ll ever get to the point of satisfaction. But if you know where you want to go and make plans to get there, even if you find yourself in a different place than you first imagined, good things still abound. I didn’t hope or plan for my accident, but some of the most amazing days of my life have been a result of that tragedy.
What do you like most about Triathlons?
I love the people, the places and the races. It’s a great atmosphere and I love to be around others who make fitness a priority in their lives.
Mention major accomplishments in your life other than triathlons
I have written a book (my memoir), started a camp for women with disabilities, competed in the World Championships in four different sport disciplines and started my own business. USA Triathlon Physically Challenged Athlete of the Year 2003 Sportswoman of Colorado Inspiration Award 2005 Sportwoman of Colorado Triathlon Award 2006 Most Inspirational Athlete (Challenged Athletes Foundation) 2008 Courage Award (Tempe, Ariz. Sports Authority Board) 2010 Sportswoman Hall of Fame. 2003 Redman Iron distance finisher 2006 Physically Challenged National Champion (Women’s wheelchair division) 2009 Beach 2 Battlefield Iron distance finisher 2006 & 2010 Qualified for the Hawaii Ironman World Championships 2010 1st place at London Paratriathlon.
Do you support or represent any Non-Profit Organizations?
I founded Camp Discovery in 2009, nine years after sustaining a spinal cord injury. Prior to my accident I was a competitive cyclist in the road, track and cyclocross disciplines, but was injured in September of 2000, when I was hit head on by a car while training on my bike. After spending three and a half weeks in the hospital, I entered rehab at Craig Hospital, where I was one of only two female inpatients on the spinal cord floor. When I was discharged and began to re-enter the athletic world, more often than not, I found again that I crossed paths with few women and the activities I wanted to participate in were dominated by men. Not to be discouraged, I learned wheelchair activities along with my male counterparts, but also yearned for the bond and companionship of other women. Finally in 2009, I challenged myself to see if I could find others in my situation who were looking to be active, fit and create a community of support. It was then that I dreamed up Camp Discovery, a place where women could leave their limits behind and find out what they were capable of. I gathered a group of dedicated friends who would volunteer to help and five years later we are going strong. Below you will read about my friends who have joined me on this journey and helped to make Camp Discovery a success far bigger than we could ever have imagined. For more information, please visit www.campdiscoveryco.com.