Arizona paratriathlete Allysa Seely is gearing up for the women’s 200-meter race in the Rio Paralympic games today.
Seely already took home the gold in the debut of the women’s triathlon on Sunday with a race time of 1:22:55. She and two other Americans, Hailey Danisewicz and Melissa Stockwell, took the top three medals in the PT2 race.
I got the chance to talk to Seely and one of her coaches about her journey to the Paralympics.
“I think that is the highlight of coaching regardless of where they have started and where they [finish], you see a big difference,” said Bettina Warnholtz, head coach and president of Racelab in Phoenix.
Warnholtz has been helping athletes train for runs and triathlons for the last 15 years.
“It’s very rewarding, of course, seeing someone going to the Olympics or someone turning pro, seeing that development is huge,” Warnholtz said. “It’s also very rewarding to see someone who is just starting and they train for their first race ever and they learn how to swim or they accomplish big goals at that level and I think it’s as rewarding.”
Warnholtz loves to see her athletes cross the finish line no matter what level.
The next one on her list is Seely. She has been coaching the paratriathlete for more than two years.
“I’ve seen her do her first triathlon with a prosthetic all the way to winning races, getting points to being part of the USA Team and then she won World Championships last year and this year and she qualified for the Olympics,” Warnholtz said.
Seely is headed to the Rio Paralympic Games in September. She will compete in two events – the debut of the triathlon and then on the track in the 200-meter race.
“I want to be standing on top of the podium and I want to see our flag raised and I want to hear our national anthem,” Seely said.
Warnholtz and Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman have been getting her ready for one of the biggest stages in the sports world — a journey that hasn’t always been easy for Seely since doing her first triathlon while at Arizona State University in 2008.
“I did two triathlons and after the first one I started experiencing a few neurological symptoms and became very sick,” Seely said. “Over the course of six to eight months, I didn’t have the energy to attend class anymore. I couldn’t train and I spent most of my time in bed.”
The pain and suffering lasted until a diagnosis finally came in 2010.
“I was diagnosed with something called Chiari II malformation, basilar invagination and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and in layman’s terms my cerebellum was herniated into my spinal column and it had a big bend in it and so the combination of that was causing the neurological symptoms,” Seely said.
She had brain and spine surgery.
“I told everybody right after surgery when I was in the hospital, my goal was to get back to triathlon and I wanted to compete at collegiate nationals [because] being sick had already stolen one year at collegiate nationals from me and I wasn’t going to miss a second one,”bSeely said. “I had the surgery in August and nationals was in April [and] I crossed the finish line and to this day that was one of the most important finish lines I have ever crossed.”
Seely was on the racing circuit again, even diving into international competition, until 2013 when she had to have her leg amputated below the left knee due to complications from the surgery.
“I was living every day in severe pain and I was back to the point where I couldn’t run and I couldn’t hike or keep up with my friends and I had already lost all of that once and I wasn’t willing to lose it again,” Seely said.
Since that time, she has never looked back.
“I know how capable she is and I know she has a big shot to doing very well [at the Paralympics], but in the end I’m on the sideline and I’m not doing the work,” Warnholtz said. “So I trust what we’ve been doing.”
“I promised myself as I was being wheeled back for my surgery that no matter what happened I was going to get my life back and start living again,” Seely said.
Seely sure has gotten her life back and is an inspiration to others overcoming obstacles.