Found on Prevention.com and written by Elizabeth Shimer Bowers
Most people consider one triathlon a feat. Hector Picard, 49, has kicked, peddled, and pushed his way through 115 of these challenging races, four of them ironman competitions. And he’s done so without his arms. This is his amazing story.
What happened in a mere few seconds on March 31, 1992, changed my life forever. I was working as a substation electrician, on my final job of the day. The last thing I remember was hearing Guns N’ Roses “Live And Let Die” on the truck radio.
When I woke up in the hospital four weeks later—I was in a coma for 30 days— I was in shock. Before the accident, I was very active and enjoyed working with my hands. Now, I couldn’t speak because I had a tracheotomy, I couldn’t move because I was strapped to the bed, and I was in excruciating pain because I had second and third degree burns over 40% of my body. After more than five surgeries, all of my right arm and half of my left arm were completely gone.
But I was lucky to be alive—the jolts could have killed me. I thought of my wife and one-year-old daughter and said to myself, I do not want to stop living, and I want to live with the same fervor as I did before.
I had a long road ahead, and many times, my zest for life was tested. The first few months were really tough. I did three months in a rehabilitation center for an inpatient program. While I was there, I concentrated on healing, mentally and physically.
Six months after the accident, I got prostheses. They helped, but they didn’t change the fact that all of a sudden, so many of the activities that were previously second-nature—like brushing my teeth, eating, and keeping myself clean—were a challenge. I’m not a macho guy, but I’m proud, and I couldn’t take others doing things for me. I didn’t have the patience to wait for people to feed me or to drive me places, and I certainly didn’t want to sit on any sidelines. So, I adapted. I wanted to prove to everyone and myself that I could do all the things I used to do, perhaps even better than before. I dropped so many plates and glasses early on, but little by little I found ways to be independent. (Looking for more inspiring stories? Get your FREE trial of Prevention + 12 FREE guides.)
Once I learned to get through my day, I craved getting back to sports. At first, I started by finding a way to play basketball. I cut a ring from a bucket using a jigsaw and attached it to a special prosthesis made by my prosthetist. With the device, I can dribble, shoot, and at times get fancy with turnaround jumps and layups. It’s actually on the market now to help other athletes missing one or both arms through a company called TRS—it’s called the HP Hoopster.
However, I received another setback in 2008, when my now ex-wife and I decided to go separate ways. Down on my luck, I started going to the gym and working out. At first, I couldn’t use the machines, but I took it as a challenge and created different ways of using belts and straps to lift weights. I enjoyed it and started toning up. Then one day at the gym, a couple I met in spinning class asked me if I was interested in trying a triathlon.
I had never really been a biker, a swimmer, or a runner (in fact, I hated running), but I said sure, I’d give it a try. I had overcome so many other hurdles; I thought, bring the challenge on.
I modified my own bike—a Huffy I purchased for $100—and I moved the brakes from the handlebar and attached them to the frame so I could use my right knee to press the lever. I attached a plumbing pipe coupler to the handlebar so I could slip my residual limb (stump) through it to steer. I was able to shift at first, but after several different modifications, I’ve found electronic shifting works best. I also taught myself to swim on my back using what I call a “reverse backstroke kick” to propel myself through the water.
It was a rough go at first. Because of my disability, the race officials allowed me to swim with fins, but about 10 feet into the swim, the fins fell off. I improvised with my own kick and was able to get through it, but was thinking, “This is the last time I do this.” When I got on my bike, I had issues getting started, but I was thankfully able to finish that part, too. Then in the middle of the run, the “runner’s high” kicked in, and told myself, I’m going to do this again, and I’m going to do it faster.
I did do it again—114 more times, thanks to the sponsorship of many generous organizations.
Four of my races have been ironman competitions, which involve a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a marathon (26.2 miles). In fact, I was the first double amputee to ever complete an ironman in 2012. That first ironman was challenging as all can be, but I never felt so good. I’ve also done several long-distance cycling and swimming events, including a 3,200 mile ride from Miami, Florida to Spokane, Washington, to benefit kids with prosthetic arms, and the 9-mile Swim to Alligator Lighthouse in Islamorada, Florida. Coming up, I’m doing a triathlon that’s been on my bucket list for a long time—the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. And I’ve since remarried an amazing woman who supports me in everything I do and encourages me to do more.
I love competing, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it—these races continue to be an obstacle for me. But it’s so worth it, not just because of what I prove to myself, but what I teach others. As I ride up alongside a first-time triathlon competitor who is apprehensive about the race, I see the reaction when they glance over and see someone like me, with no arms. It’s inspiring, and it helps them finish. To those riders and others facing the all kinds of physical and emotional obstacles thrown at them by life, I say, an obstacle is meant to be overcome—don’t let it become a barrier. Whatever you think you cannot tackle, go over it, through it, or around it to get to your ultimate goal.