Children with Disabilities Compete in U-M’s First Adaptive Triathlon
Children with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other special needs spent a day swimming, biking, and walking or running — in true triathlon fashion.
But recently, he was in a race that included swimming, biking and completing a walking course.
And now, the 7-year-old can call himself a triathlete.
PJ was among roughly 30 children who completed the first-ever adaptive triathlon organized by University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Participants ranged from ages 4 to 15 and all had conditions that restrict movement, including cerebral palsy and spina bifida. In traditional triathlon style, the event comprised of an adaptive swim leg, a bike leg and a walk/run leg, all at U-M’s MedSport at Domino’s Farms.
“People don’t think of children with disabilities as athletes. But they are athletes. Every day is a workout for them,” says Mott physical therapist Betsy Howell, who organized the event.
“When you work with them in physical therapy, you feel how strong they are and how hard they work. They push themselves every day. They are super-competitive kids,” she says. “A triathlon is not something that may have ever been on their radar screen. This gives them an opportunity for that competitive nature to come through in a different way and enjoy a great sense of accomplishment.”
Howell has spent years competing in triathlons and wanted the kids to experience the journey and sense of satisfaction that comes with completing such a rigorous athletic event. Her idea for the adaptive triathlon was met with overwhelming support from the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, MedSport and dozens of volunteers and staff members who donated time and resources.