By Orge Castellano
RIO DE JANEIRO – September 11 was a day of remembrance for the athletes competing in Rio de Janeiro. Exactly 15 years ago the 9/11 attacks became the deadliest moment in US history. The women’s triathlon Paralympic debut paid tribute to the USA when the american women hit the podium fiercely winning all three medals in the PT2 category. The race went around the specially-built course in Copacabana Fort, one of the most widely recognized landmarks in the world constructed in 1908 to protect Rio de Janeiro from enemy ships entering Guanabara Bay. It was a strong and fast-paced race filled with sweat and nagging heats rising above 107 ºF. The Americans conquered their opponents in the debut event after stunning efforts in the salty and picturesque waters of Ipanema, then on the bike and on the run altogether. It was a special and a patriotic moment for them, especially for Army veteran Melissa Stockwell who took bronze, beating Finland’s Liisa Lilja just 37 seconds ahead of her.
“My goal was to race my best race and to be on that podium, that last mile was tough but I knew she (Liisa LILJA, FIN, finished fourth) was behind me, someone told me ‘she’s 100 feet back’, but it was hard. I don’t know how far she was back but however far back she was, I just went for it” said Melissa after the race.
“To be on the podium with my two teammates, two of my training partners, two of my very best friends – USA sweep on September 11, wearing a USA uniform, this is one of the greatest moments of my life, I’m so thrilled”
Rio is the second Paralympic games for the Minnesotan, having competed in Beijing 2008 in para-swimming. Fate hit her hard 12 years ago when a roadside bomb injured her and her leg had to be amputated above the knee. Never giving up, after Stockwell retired from the Army in 2005 she began practicing sports again and got involved in several projects for veterans with disabilities. She is an alumna and board member of the Wounded Warrior Project.
You could feel the hype around the streets as the cariocas, local residents of Rio de Janeiro, waved their arms and shouted words of encouragements to the racers. The women busted their guts putting every ounce of their energy all race along. Allyson Seely proved to be the most energetic. Establishing herself as the lead from the beginning with a strong start, she has claimed the title of Paralympic champion for the first time ever with a large humble smile spread across her face as she ran over the finish line.
“To be able to get my name go down as the first gold medalist for paratriathlon is a huge honor. I want to take it very seriously and it’s incredible”
“As I crossed the finish line I thought it’s been a hard journey with ups and downs and I can’t think of a higher note this could have ended on.”
Then there was Hailey Danisewicz, 25, from Wisconsin, who clinched the silver medal. She rode her bike faster than most of the athletes with a total distance of 22.28 km and a record time of 40:13 minutes. Hailey was very calm and focused during her time, appearing almost as if she wasn’t in a world-class competition, but rather an amicable race with friends.
“I can’t think of a better group of people to do it. I’m so honored to be a part of history today.” She said.
“It’s unbelievable. We made history today. It’s been such an honor to be able to represent America, to represent the sport of para-triathlon on the stage for the very first time.
Given the importance of the sport’s debut, IPC president Sir Phillip Craven awarded the medals in the ceremony, adding:
“The way that Rio 2016, the Carioca have come together here is just what I dream of a Paralympic sport in this reality.”
These athletes have overcome many challenges and made history in lives of women, Team USA, and the Paralympics.