June 8, 2002
Physically-challenged athletes compete in Heatwave Triathlon
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
RIDGELAND, Miss.—For the second year in a row, disabled athletes represented Methodist Rehabilitation Center in the Heatwave Triathlon.
Josh Sharpe, of Jackson, and Randy Lavender, of Tupelo, both competed today at the Ross Barnet Reservoir in Ridgeland.
Sharpe, a paraplegic who lost the use of his legs in a car accident, covered the 24.5-mile bike course on a hand cycle. Sharpe said he fell in love with hand cycling after reading a magazine article about the sport.
“It was an issue of Sports ‘N’ Spokes and I had been looking for ways to stay in shape,” Sharpe said. “As soon as I was on one, I knew it was something I wanted to master.”
A hand cycle has three wheels and its gearing is raised so that the rider can push the pedals with the hands. Just like a bicycle, it also has several gears to shift through making hill climbs easier. In preparing for a race like Heatwave, Sharpe averages 20-30 miles per ride with long rides up to 70 miles long.
Since then, Sharpe has become a mainstay in other sporting fields as well. He’s a frequent rock climber and is also active in scuba diving, tennis and skiing. His goal, he says, is to one day complete all three segments of the triathlon on his own.
Lavender became a paraplegic after a motorcycle accident 17 years ago. He has become an accomplished wheelchair racer competing around the southeast. In March, he placed in the master’s division at the prestigious Azalea Trail Classic 10K in Mobile.
Lavender is involved with Living Independence For Everyone (LIFE) in Tupelo and holds support meetings once a month.
“We want to prove to others that there are a lot of activities you can do even with a disability,” Lavender said. “That’s part of the fun of racing. I like showing them the proof. We go snow skiing, water skiing, rock climbing. We have a ball.”
A lot of Methodist Rehab’s athletes weren’t very active, let alone competitive before their injuries, said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at the Jackson hospital. “But when they start training and they start seeing themselves getting into shape, they want to see how far they can take it,” she said.
“And triathlon is a great opportunity because it’s so much fun. You’re outside and with your friends. So many people out there with disabilities don’t know they can have this much fun and be active in sports,” Boydston added.
Sharpe talks to others with disabilities about becoming involved in sports and leading an active lifestyle.
“It’s scary to think how many people in wheelchairs just sit around and aren’t active,” he said. “It’s obviously bad for you physically, but it’s also bad for you mentally. Being out there and doing things like climbing a 30 foot-tall rock wall or pedaling a hand cycle gives you the self-confidence to do other things like driving a car or getting a job.”
Randy Lavendar of Tupelo competed in today's Heatwave Triathlon in Ridgeland.
Josh Sharpe of Jackson, a paraplegic who lost the use of his legs in a car accident, covered the 24.5-mile bike course on a hand cycle.
Ginny Boydston, therapeutic recreation director at Methodist Rehab, athlete Josh Sharpe, Michelle Vines, therapeutic recreation specialist, and athlete Randy Lavendar of Tupelo made up Team MRC at this year's Heatwave Triathlon.