Conditioning your body to the point where it can run, bike and swim more than 30 miles in three hours is no easy feat, even for the athletes that regularly push themselves to do so.
Tri-athletes train every day for hours in order to prepare for a race. And challenged athlete Daniel Tratt is no different from the thousands of other lean, toned and incredibly fast athletes slated to participate in the Westchester Triathlon this Sunday.
But for Tratt, there's an added obstacle—he has to train and participate without the use of his lower body. And he is always facing his toughest competitor: himself.
Personal goals keep him motivated, Tratt told Patch. “I am always setting new goals for myself and every year I set a goal and reach it and I get addicted," he said." I want to set another one.”
Tratt, a 33-year-old New Rochelle resident who grew up in Sullivan County, NY, became paralyzed from the waist down in 1999 after he fell over a stairway banister and dropped 23 feet. He was left with traumatic brain injury, also. Tratt has since recovered from the TBI and has overcome his paralysis to lead a fulfilling and successful life.
In the last 13 years, Tratt has become a motivational speaker, become a special education teacher in the Bronx, and earned two MBA degrees and his Masters in Education. Over the last five years, he has become one of the nation’s most accomplished challenged athletes and the “darling of the Westchester Triathlon,” according to one of the races organizers.
"Daniel tratt is unbelievable. He races like nobody I know, he smiles, he's worried about everybody else," said Nancy Reiger, the Triathlon's public relations specialist and a fellow tri-athlete.
"He is just an incredible inspiration for everybody that sees him and meets him. We all adore him. He just gives back so much and is incredibly philanthropic in all that he does."
Tratt takes that the compliments humbly.
“She is just biased” Tratt said of Reiger, adding that is because they train together.
Tratt began training for triathlons five years ago, when disabled friends he volunteers with encouraged him to become involved.
“I had already gotten a hand cycle, and one of my mentors taught me how to get a racing chair," Tratt said. "Another taught me how to swim, and I was ready to go."
Now, he trains 10 to 12 hours a week in the pool, on his bike and on the racing chair. He attributes his success to his support group, especially the Rye Tri club, which is a a non-profit triathlon training club that supports charities and organizes the Westchester Triathlon.
“They have been incredibly friendly to the challenged athletes, and made me and one of my mentors honorary athletes this year,” Tratt said.
One way the Rye Tri club has been an asset to Tratt? It's helped him learn to swim by carrying him to the water for practice. Tratt’s most difficult physical challenge in the triathlon is swimming, he said, because his legs are dead weight in the water.
But since last spring, with the help of Rye Tri, Tratt has been bolstering his upper body strength and logged enough practice hours to swim on his stomach in this year’s race. He believes this will significantly help his time.
“It is really amazing—the Rye Tri club that organizes this race is like a really big family, and everyone is really supportive of one another," Tratt said. "Organizers have always been really supportive of challenged athletes and encouraging. They have made us feel like one of them. We are not singled out for our differences, but we are included for our similarities."
Recently, Tratt has competed around the world and is sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation, one of the beneficiaries of the 28th Jarden Westchester Triathlon.
Over the last few years, Tratt estimates that the Challenged Athletes Foundation has spent around $10,000 on equipment and traveling expenses for him to participate in races across the country.
Tratt won for his division at the Westchester Tri with a time of 3:21 last year. He noted only a few challenged athletes competed, but remains proud of his win. This year, he hopes to break his record by shaving six minutes off his time.
“I would really like to beat 3:15 and get 3:10, but I’d be happy with 3:15,” he said.
Cheer for Tratt on Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Westchester Triathlon. For more on the event, click here.