By Brooke Wagner, Denver’s CBS Channel 4
DENVER, Colo. — Six years ago, competitive cyclist Tricia Downing was on a training ride in Golden when a driver hit her head-on. She was paralyzed from the chest down.
From her hospital bed, Downing planned her athletic comeback and she hasn’t stopped since. Her goal is to become the first female wheelchair racer ever to finish the Hawaii Ironman world championship.
Since her accident, Downing has competed in 13 marathons and a variety of triathlons. She was the first female paraplegic to complete an Iron-distance triathlon. She’s won the Sportwomen of Colorado inspiration and triathlon awards. It’s easy to see why Tricia is a true Colorado inspiration.
“If I were going describe myself in one word, I would call myself an athlete,” she said.
Her ultimate challenge came on a fall day in 2000.
“We rode from my house in cherry creek out to golden and lookout mountain and we were on our way back on 32nd avenue and there was a car coming west in the turn lane and then the car made the turn,” Downing said. “The driver hit me head on and I was ejected, turned in mid air, broke my neck, broke my scapula and two ribs.”
Doctors had to re-build Downing’s back, but she knew she’d never walk again and spent three months in a rehab hospital.
“They teach you everything from how to get out of bed to how to get in and out of the shower,” she said. “They’re going to show you how to do that and get back into life.”
She told CBS4 she applied for a grant from the hospital computer to pay for part of a new hand cycle. Before her accident, Downing had been a tandem pilot for a blind cyclist. She would be the cyclist on the front of the tandem.
She worked with the Challenged Athletes Foundation and now, she’s the spokesperson.
“From the beginning I wanted to get back into athletics and a lot of the reason I knew that I could was having been a pilot and having seen other athletes with disabilities,” Downing said.
She quickly set her sights on the Ironman. Training took tremendous will. Being a wheelchair athlete is very expensive, because of the special equipment. Downing won no lawsuits from the crash and bears a huge financial burden after her injury.
“I pay for my personal trainer, I pay for my coach, and for a school teacher, that adds up, but I can’t imagine my life without sports,” she said.
In October of 2006 Downing gave everything she had in Hawaii. In the 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile marathon run, she did everything with her arms.
“It’s brutal,” she said. “People are hitting, they’re kicking, they’re pushing into you, they’re hitting your goggles off.”
Downing was not about to give up, but unfortunately, it was a heartbreaker. She was pulled off the course at 95 miles. She is not disappointed.
“Only six years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed wondering what was going to happen next in my life, and now here I am already through one and a half Ironman races,” she said.
Downing is going back to the Ironman this year, right after her wedding, in the fall.
Along with all the wedding planning and intense training, Downing works as a Denver high school teacher, coordinating internships.
Competing in the 2007 Ironman will cost well over $10,000 and Downing is looking for sponsors.