Logistics are something every triathlete must consider, and there are additional potential considerations for me as an amputee. This post is meant to be educational for amputees new to triathlon so they will get a little glimpse into the additional things I consider prior to race day. I don’t intend to address all the logistics of a triathlon, just those that may be different for a lower limb amputee. Hopefully this will help calm any of those nerves that might be part of what’s keeping someone from signing up for their first race!
Transition Area: I have 2 legs that will be “hanging out” in transition at any given time and it’s easier for me to switch legs if I have a chair to sit on, so I need a larger transition area than the small space they generally provide at races. I’ve found that if I reach out to the race organizers well before the race, they have absolutely no problem giving me a larger space in transition so I can set up all my legs and my chair without creating a trip hazard for my fellow athletes. Some races have designated areas for PC (physically challenged) athletes in the transition area, but many races do not. Requesting this larger space in advance is definitely something I recommend to new athletes because it will help ensure that your transition area is sufficient for your needs and you won’t be stressing about your limbs and the chair fitting in your space on race morning. Some races have been willing to provide a folding chair for me, but I also have a small camp chair that I always bring with me in case they forget in the hustle and bustle of race morning (they do have thousands of athletes they are responsible for after all).
Getting to the Swim: My wetsuit is modified to fit my amputated side, which is super skinny, so I’m not able to put my prosthesis on once I’m in my wetsuit. I therefore use the port-o-potty one last time, then head down to the water to put my wetsuit on so I’m fairly close to the warm-up and/or start area well before the race starts. I have a beach towel with me so I don’t have to look for a grassy patch to sit down on when I do put my wetsuit on and can be close to the water because I also have a hard time standing on one leg while squeezing into my wetsuit. I also have crutches nearby so I can use those if I need to get around the beach once the leg is off and the wetsuit is on. Once I’m in my wetsuit, I hand my biking or running leg (depending on what the run between the swim exit and transition looks like regarding footing and distance – more on that later), to my handler. My handler then makes sure my swim exit area is set up with a beach towel and my leg (with my liner covered by a towel), and I get in the water.
Getting Out of the Water: This is probably the most difficult part because I don’t stand up until well after the other athletes who can run out of the water, so sometimes they go right over me. I try to swim until it’s so shallow that I can’t possible swim anymore because that’s faster for me than trying to hop through water, even with a handler. Once I get to the shallow water, my handler is there waiting for me and s/he gives me a shoulder and helps me get out of the water to my towel. They then help me strip my wetsuit, I dry off my leg as well as possible (with the small towel that was covering my prosthesis), put my prosthesis on, and take off towards transition.
T1: Once I’m done with the swim and in the first transition, the logistics depend on which leg I wore to get there from the swim. If the path from the swim was long and sandy or rocky, I likely wore my running leg out of the water, so I now have to switch to my biking leg in T1. However, if the path to the transition area is short and paved, I likely wore my biking leg out of the water so I just have to put on my helmet & bike shoe, grab the bike, and go. My biking leg has a cleat on the bottom, so it’s not good to wear over long distances or through rocks/sand, which is why I sometimes wear my running leg and then switch once I get to transition.
T2: After the bike, I come in to the 2nd transition area and have to get ready for the run. I rack my bike, sit down in my chair, and put my running shoe and running leg on. Because of the system I use, I generally baby powder my leg and put fresh leg socks on before putting on my running leg because I’ve discovered there’s not much worse than running in soggy socks. Many people wear gel liners, so this will be different for them, but I flag it for anyone out there who is still in a set-up that involves socks against the skin like me.
Finish: Depending on the distance, I sometimes have my handler bring my walking leg to the finish area for me. My leg gets pretty sore over the course of a longer distance (half ironman), so I usually want to take my prosthesis off as soon as I cross the finish line. Walking in my running leg can hurt my knee, so having my walking leg there to put on before having to walk back to transition can be very helpful.
There are many other considerations when doing a triathlon, but I hope this has helped answer some of the questions about how a triathlon may differ for a lower limb amputee compared to someone who has all their limbs. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions about the logistics of a triathlon for a lower limb amputee.