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Health Stories: What It’s Like to … Persevere After a Spinal Cord Injury

About 30 years ago, I started coaching with USA Triathlon and with USA Track & Field, and I also became a personal trainer. A year into personal training, I had a client who was an Ironman, and he dared me to compete in a triathlon. I said, “OK, but I don’t know how to swim,” and he said, “I’ll teach you.” We went to a fitness club, and he started training me. We did a sprint triathlon together, a small triathlon. You swim 500 yards, bike about 12 miles, and run a 5K. I got a bunch of other people involved, and we started doing sprint triathlons together. That’s what got me going.

My accident happened in 2002. I was in a 50-mile bike race in Temecula. I was training for an Ironman. I was going down a hill pretty fast. I hit broken asphalt in the road on a right-hand turn, and my bike swung out beneath me and went down a ravine. I landed between my shoulder blades on that broken asphalt. I broke my back and became paraplegic.

I was in a chair and laid up for almost two years. I went to physical therapy with a wonderful woman named Lissa Trevino. She’s the one who, besides God, got me up and out of the chair and got me walking.

I got back into sports thanks to two friends here in town who heard about Challenged Athletes Foundation, which is a nonprofit for people with disabilities who want to get back into life with sports. CAF does a half Ironman once a year in San Diego, and throughout the year they are raising money to get durable medical equipment and sports equipment for disabled people, prosthetics for amputees, basketball wheelchairs, racing wheelchairs, and tennis wheelchairs.

So my friends found out about this and said, “We’ll do the half Ironman as a team, and we’ll get you a race chair.” I hadn’t swum in 2 1/2 years. My friends asked a gentleman who is a paraplegic and swims, “Can you teach Beth to swim with no legs?” And he said, “Absolutely.” They threw me in the pool, and he showed me how to swim with just my arms. About three months later, I swam a mile and a half. I went to San Diego and saw lots of people who were disabled doing the half Ironman. And I’ve done that for 20-plus years, raising money for Challenged Athletes Foundation and helping people get into a sport.

I’m also involved with Achilles International, which is a foundation in New York that helps our wounded warriors and other people do marathons. I’ve coached at the Marine base at Camp Pendleton for years.

I hold two Guinness World Records. The first one is I did a marathon on all seven continents, including the Antarctic, and I did the North Pole. The second world record is I did the highest road marathon in the world. We got to see Mount Everest from far off when we started our race. It was 18,000 feet, roughly. This was all done as a challenged athlete, a person who is not able to run, so I had to do it with a chair. I do it with my arms instead of my legs.

Then, in 2021, I was in a car accident, and again my lower back was injured. I couldn’t bear weight and couldn’t walk. I was on a walker and in a wheelchair. I had the surgery a year and a half later because I was hunting for the right neurosurgeon. I went into Hoag being in a chair, and I came out walking. In less than two weeks, I did a 10K at the Turkey Trot in Dana Point. Then I did a sprint triathlon right after that. I was back and racing again.

—As told to Valerie Takahama

By: Orange Coast Magazine

Tags: Story,Spine