Local Rio Paralympics Participant

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Glendale resident Allysa Seely from Glendale is a triathlete who’s qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics. The 24-year-old is an amputee with a traumatic brain injury. Hear Allysa’s story as we follow her on her training routine.

TED SIMONS: An Arizona athlete is one of the favorites to win gold in a new Paralympic competition, the triathlon: a bruising sport that requires athletes to swim, bike and run. Allysa Seely is the current World Champion in the paratriathlon. She's been training full time for the chance to race in Rio and as photographers Zach Moran and Langston Fields found out, she is ready for the competition.

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ALLYSSA SEELY: So, I don't do New Year's resolutions--instead every year I try to do something I've never done before. My first year of college I got kind of bored with just running. I was running 6-7 days a week. I had heard a little bit about triathlons. I didn't know what exactly they were, but I was like "I'm gonna do this triathlon thing--how hard can it be?"

I happened to win my age group and not too long after the first triathlon I started having a lot of pain in my head. It was very different than like a headache. It was like my brain hurt.

It took almost a year-and-a-half to get a correct diagnosis and treatment. When I finally did get a correct diagnosis, I was diagnosed with Chiari II malformation, basilar Invagination and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Yeah, it's a mouthful, I know. In layman's term, basically my brain was herniated into my spinal column.

By the time we finally got a diagnosis, there was some pretty significant neurological damage that had been done. I had numbness and tingling in my legs. Walking had become very difficult and I had lost a lot of strength throughout my entire body.

The morning I had surgery I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I was going to start living again. Because in my mind, for the last year-and-a-half, I had survived--I wasn't living.

I kept going and unfortunately with a little more time, you know, the damage neurologically just proved to be something we couldn't work with anymore. My foot was quite deformed from what they call dystonia. So after seeing eight surgeons and a lot of opinions, it was decided the best option was the below-the-knee amputation of my left leg.

The foot was never that important to me. My identity was in what I love to do and that was to be active. And the deformed foot really prevented that. I was on a bike two weeks after I had surgery, I was walking four weeks later and at six weeks I swam 1.2 miles and was part of a relay team.

As soon as I got back into it, something started kicking me in the competitive nature took over again and so I really just started, you know, racing locally. I qualified for nationals and went to nationals, and then I was invited to race internationally, and I really just kind of followed the path.

Having a prosthetic really shouldn't be painful. If it fits well, if the person making it does a good job it shouldn't be painful.

BETTINA WARNHOLTZ: At short distance you have to pay attention much more to technique, much more to very specific intervals and specific workouts that have to be done very precisely.

ALLYSA: It is a lot of mechanics and picking exactly where your arm or your leg or your foot should be. And you know, there is a lot of other compensation I do. You will find me looking down frequently as I approach a turn especially to make sure I know what foot needs to be leading and not crossing and stuff like that.
Right now the Olympics is our full focus. Every workout every day is leading to that day. Really it is just going to be the best meet.

BETTINA: She has shown that she responds really well to the training. When we compare her with other athletes where she stands, I do believe she has the potential to win the gold.

ALLYSA: When it comes down to race day, I'm just gonna go out and give it everything I have and be my best, because at the end of the day that's all I can do.

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TED: The Paralympics begin in Rio on September 7th. Seely is trying to raise money to help cover the costs of her Olympic trip and has set up a web site to raise funds.

Wednesday on Arizona Horizon, we'll check out the opening of ASU's new downtown law college building. And we will talk about another study that gives the state's school system bad grades. That's the next Arizona Horizon.

That is it for now. I am Ted Simons, thanks for joining us. You have a great evening.

ANNOUNCER: Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

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