It’s Go Time Events focuses on empowering athletes to have the necessary tools to make it to the start line. Through awareness, education and training we motivate at-need individuals to reach their fitness goals. There are no limits. It’s Go Time…Get to the start line!
December 4, 2009
At age 32, Rajesh Durbal has long grown used to the sideways glances and outright stares that have followed him all his life. Some days, he even finds them amusing.
Consider his workouts at the College Park public pool, where he'll start by plopping down poolside, taking off his prosthetic legs and jumping into the deep end.
"People are watching me like, ‘Is this guy going to drown?'" said Durbal, who also is missing one of his lower arms. "The lifeguard tends to stay real close. It's pretty hilarious."
Yet Durbal, a senior network engineer for the City of Orlando, not only can swim; he also runs and bicycles too. In October, he became the first triple-amputee to finish an Olympic-distance triathlon (a .9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run).
On Saturday, he'll make his debut in the OUC Half Marathon, joining 3,500 other runners for the 13.1-mile run in and around downtown Orlando. Organizers say he'll be the first competitor to do the event on two prosthetic legs. And while most of his fellow runners would consider it a hassle if they have to stop mid-course and tie their shoelaces, Durbal may have to stop and change his feet.
After all, he just got new carbon-fiber appendages earlier this week, and they take a bit of getting used to.
"I'm using a bunch of different muscles to run on these feet," he says. "So as a back-up, I'm going to have [a friend] carry my other feet in case I have to switch them."
The old feet are walking models – built for stability, not speed or grace. The fact that he has managed to run, even race, on them is testament to what others describe as extraordinary mental toughness.
"Everyone is motivated by him," said Consuela "Sway" Lively, a triathlon coach who was inspired by Durbal to launch a nonprofit organization to help physically challenged athletes. "Eighty percent of endurance racing is mental, and he definitely has that mental ability to get where he wants to be."
Called It's Go Time Events Inc., the new nonprofit made its first mission to pay for those expensive carbon-fiber feet. Next it plans to buy a second set of feet for cycling and two new sets of legs that will connect on one end to the feet and on the other to the end of his amputated legs. The whole package will run roughly $50,000. Once he has the right limbs, Durbal plans to do the Hawaiian Ironman -- another first for a triple amputee.
"The sky's the limit for him," said Scott Saunders, president of ABC Prosthetics and Orthotics in Orlando, who has been working with Durbal. "He's very talented, so he's great to work with. There are some people who want to run, but they're so uncoordinated they can hardly run with two good feet. But he's got the build for it, he's got the muscles for it, and he's got the determination."
Durbal came into the world this way: much of his body perfect, but with only one fully formed arm. One leg was missing an ankle, a foot and most of his toes; the other had only an ankle and one toe. One arm ended just past his elbow and had only a single finger.
His parents decided to have the malformed legs amputated before his first birthday so that their son could be fitted with prostheses. Rajesh learned to walk at the same time most of his peers did, but he also learned he had to modify a lot of movements to accommodate what were then rather crude artificial limbs.
But his biggest challenge was the cruel teasing he endured. "I got called every name in the book," he said. "I had no friends all through high school."
He started smoking at 14 and drinking a year later. Though he began lifting weights in college, his lone focus at that point was buffing up his body to appeal to women. Only after a spiritual epiphany, he said, did he begin to realize he wanted more out of life than just escaping taunts. This spring, three months before a sprint (short distance) triathlon in Baldwin Park, he signed up and started training.
He exhausted himself in the swim, crashed on the bike and hobbled through the run, enduring excruciating pain as the sockets of his walking legs rubbed his skin raw. He would barely be able to stand for the next week. He wasn't last across the finish line – but he was close to it. The crowd went wild as he crossed.
"I was so beat up," he said, "but it was the most spectacular moment of my life."
And it left him wanting more. If he makes it to the finish line Saturday, it will be the farthest he has ever run at once. The forecasted rain may make footing treacherous. Durbal is aware, but not afraid. He'll be praying the whole time.
"I've always had to be stronger – mentally and physically – than everybody else," he said. "I've always had to battle everybody's assumptions."
Kate Santich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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