Getting back in the saddle was never a problem for Victor Van den Boomen.
Not even a severe spinal injury in 2007 kept the former Ironman triathlete from training and racing.
This summer Van den Boomen is on track to do the Self-Transcendence Triathlon at Elk Lake as part of a relay team. It’s significant only because race organizers are trying to encourage, and include, paratriathletes.
Paratriathlon will debut at the 2016 Summer Paralympics and is on the rise.
Van den Boomen isn’t sure he used the word when he first competed as a paratriathlete in the summer of 2008, only eight months after his devastating cycling injury on the Pat Bay Highway that left him unable to walk.
He did the entire Olympic-distance event with the organizers permitting a 5 a.m. start time to accommodate his slower speed. Despite damaged vertebrae in his neck and back Van den Boomen can still swim and bike as well as some able-bodied athletes, and can hike along at a decent clip, though running is out of the question. He uses hiking poles to straighten his stride, a unique gait that adapts by swinging his right leg forward.
This year he’s opting to do the swim on a relay team at the 34th Self-Transcendence Triathlon on Aug. 4 with regular teammates Rob Breathelt on the bike and Steve Fifield doing the run.
Not because he is adverse to completing the Olympic distance or getting up for a 5 a.m. start, but rather, he’s diversified from strictly training for triathlons.
“I’ve never been interested in a paratriathlete category, I just wanted to finish the race, and I didn’t know where I would fit (in the race),” Van den Boomen said at Beaver Lake on Sunday.
The seven-time Ironman Canada finisher cheered half-Ironman competitors as they raced by during the Subaru Saunders Tri Series event last Sunday.
“Back then I had so much energy because I still thought I was going to make a full recovery. You never stop being competitive but I also hit a limit.There was only so much training I could do while working full time,” Van den Boomen said.
“With a spinal injury, you’re fighting it 24-7. My hand wants to curl up into a ball, my muscles want to cramp. Physio never ends.”
Still, part of the reason he sticks with his teammates is their own dedication to a strong time in the event.
“At this point, having done so many triathlons, you don’t want to embarrass yourself,” he said lightheartedly, indicative of his competitive level.
Since retiring this year, he has upped his regimen and taken on a new endeavour, strapping into a race model wheelchair with the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon as a goal.
“I was crashing the bike a little too often. I’m not as efficient a cyclist as I was.”
Instead Van den Boomen can be seen circling the Claremont secondary track, where he’s trained with Paralympic gold medalist sprinter Michelle Stilwell.
“She blows me away, she’s an inspiration.”
As paratriathlon grows as a sport, Van den Boomen has no problems promoting its worth. He’s attempted to contact the Family Challenge organizers in Penticton about returning as a paratriathlete to complete Family Challenge’s Ironman-distance race once again (Family Challenge took over in Penticton as Ironman left for Whistler this year). He has yet to hear back.
“To do an Ironman (distance) event again would be the pinnacle for me. I’m so grateful to the Self Transcendence organizers for being inclusive and allowing me to keep racing.”
Spokesperson Ian Phillips said the Self-Transcendence doesn’t want to mislead anyone.
“We can’t accommodate everyone because our running path is on a trail (around Beaver and Elk lakes), not on a road. But we can certainly try.
“The whole point of the triathlon is to help people achieve their goals. If someone out there wants to do the race, contact us and we’ll see about teaming them up on a relay team or making other accommodations,” Philips said.
Visit victoriatriathlon.com for more information, call 250-592-6211 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. July 1 is the final early bird deadline for registrants.