x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Triathlete undeterred by paralysed limb

At 12, Jason Lester lost the use of his right arm. Twenty-four years later, he is set to rouse 1,500 competitors and crowds at Abu Dhabi race

Jason Lester says he feels good about Abu Dhabi. He joins athletes from more than 50 countries.
Jason Lester says he feels good about Abu Dhabi. He joins athletes from more than 50 countries.

ABU DHABI // A paralysed arm is no obstacle for a determined athlete. Just ask Jason Lester.

A car accident at age 12 robbed him of the use of his right arm and left him with 21 broken bones and a collapsed lung.

Despite those childhood injuries, he has refused to give up on his goal of becoming an accomplished endurance athlete.

Lester has taken part in countless races around the world, and come March 12, the 36-year-old American will add the UAE to his list of countries conquered.

He is slated to take part in the second annual Abu Dhabi International Triathlon next month.

Last year's inaugural triathlon attracted 800 participants from 30 countries. This year, more than 50 countries will take part.

"Interest in the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon has grown significantly, and in just 12 months since the inaugural event, we have nearly doubled the entry list to 1,500 participants," said Faisal al Sheikh, events manager at the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.

"We have seen a huge increase in the number of first-timers taking part as well as the number of new countries represented … with first-time representation from as far away as Brazil, China, Peru and Vietnam."

Lester will compete in the race's long course, made up of a 3km swim in the Emirates Palace lagoon, a 200km bike ride through the capital, over Saadiyat Island and around the Yas Marina Circuit, and he will finish off with a 20km run along the Corniche.

For an event that has been held only once before, there is a "tremendous field of top athletes" taking part, said Lester, which "says a lot about the event".

"I can't wait to get to Abu Dhabi because everyone I know who went there last year for the very first race has told me it was phenomenal. I want to see for myself what all the fuss is about," he said. "This will be my first race in the Middle East, a region which is new to me, which makes it even more special."

Intense training has gone into his preparation for the event, Lester said.

"I feel good about what I can achieve in Abu Dhabi. I like a challenge."

The swimming component of any triathlon is the most challenging for Lester. He uses only his left arm to propel himself through the water, coupled with the strength of his legs.

"I swim by powering my legs through the water, which the other guys don't do," he said. "They hardly use their legs, so it does take a lot out of me."

During the cycling stretch, he uses Velcro to attach his right arm to his bicycle's handlebar.

Mr al Sheikh expects Lester to prove an inspiration to many, both competitors and the hundreds of people expected to line the route and cheer on the athletes.

"Jason's passion and his ability to push the boundaries of achievement will, I am sure, be a positive role model for athletes of all skills and background," Mr al Sheikh said.

In addition to the triathlon's long and short courses, next month's event will also include a sprint course. It consists of a 750 metre swim, a 50km bike ride and a 5km run, and will be open to individuals and teams of three.

"The sprint is boosting uptake from novice racers across the Arabian Gulf and is opening up the sport to a far greater audience," said Mr al Sheikh. "It is an entry-level platform to help aspiring athletes, or those just wanting to get in better shape, or be a part of this event."

This is the chance for first-time participants to "compete with the elite", he said.

"We hope it will inspire a new generation of athletes to lace up their running shoes," said Mr al Sheikh.

Each of the male and female winners of the long course will receive Dh180,000 (US$50,000). The rest of the Dh918,000 (US$250,000) prize pot will be distributed among the top 10 in both sexes, as well as prizes for the winners of different age groups.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae