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Disabled Iraq veterans stay in the race

May. 31, 2007 - 05:48PM   |   Last Updated: May. 31, 2007 - 05:48PM  |  
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Rich Ingram competed in the 2006 Accenture Escape from Alcatraz triathlon. He lost his left arm in an IED attack, and is the reigning USA Triathlon Physically Challenged Champion in the below-elbow amputee division. ()
Melissa Stockwell, left, competed in the Accenture Chicago Triathlon in 2006. Stockwell lost her left leg in an IED attack in Iraq and is currently training for the Paralympics. ()

Andy Hatcher ran his first marathon seven months before being deployed to Iraq in September 2004. Losing his right leg in combat three months later could have ended his running career, but Hatcher is still going strong.

Hatcher, 23, of Alexandria, Va., will compete in the http://www.escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com/">Accenture Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco on Sunday. He will be part of a relay team with two other Iraq war veterans who lost limbs.

Rich Ingram, 23, of Dahlonega, Ga., who lost his left arm in 2005, will bike 18 miles. Melissa Stockwell, 27, of Chicago, who lost her left leg in 2004, will swim 11/2 miles. Hatcher will run 8 miles.

The race worked with the Challenged Athletes Foundation to involve disabled veterans and to organize a clinic for physically challenged people on Saturday.

"When you bounce back from (losing a leg), it shows you who you are," Hatcher says. "People like CAF provide you with the opportunity to realize that life's not over."

Last year's Alcatraz Triathlon was Ingram's first race, but since then he has competed in about 10 of them.

"I got addicted to it," he says. "It became a part of my rehabilitation."

One other team of challenged athletes will be among the more than 1,800 athletes in the triathlon.

"They're all competing on the same playing field," says Meghan Lee, triathlon spokeswoman.

At least a few disabled athletes compete in most major triathlons, though it's still not a common feat for a disabled person to accomplish, Lee says.

"I'm proving to myself and to other people that we can still get out there and compete like they do," Stockwell says.

Stockwell is training for the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. She swims about 6 miles a day.

The athletes say the attitude and strength they gained while serving in Iraq helped them recover from their wounds and train.

"I don't think of myself as challenged," Ingram says. "You just go out there and have a strong mind."

Beth Sussman writes for USA Today.

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