XTERRA Adventures 2020 Episode 3 - Inspiring Athletes

by XTERRA Taiwan on 03/19/2021

XTERRA is known for its spirited community, its dazzling locales and its punishing courses. But another of the sport’s hallmarks is its inclusivity. XTERRA invites athletes with all kinds of physical challenges to participate, persevere and excel.
Little did Jamie Whitmore know the fight she had in front of her. Whitmore is the winningest woman in XTERRA history. With an emotional victory at the 2004 World Championships, she claimed the one title her resumé had been missing. But four years later, Whitmore was diagnosed with cancer. The removal of her gluteus and hamstring left her without the use of her lower left leg. Whitmore rebuilt her career in the years that followed, winning Paralympic cycling medals and an ESPY award and giving birth to twin sons. A run of success that not even the most qualified medical experts could have predicted. 

In 2016, eight years after her initial diagnosis, Whitmore fulfilled a lifelong athletic dream. 

"The Rio Paralympics was one of the most incredible things I've ever, ever been a part of. I mean, as a kid, when I would watch the Olympics and I would watch all the Olympics, the swimming and all that. I would always imagine that one day I wanted to be there, and I was hoping XTERRA would get to the Olympics because, you know, why not? It's the coolest sport out there. I still feel like a pro. I mean, I'm still the elite athlete. I still train as much as I did before. I still get paid. But, you know, I'm still a pro para athlete who is a mom and a cancer survivor with a disability. I'm all of it." said Jamie Whitmore.

Giving options to disabled athletes is the core mission of the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Its supporters believe that no disability should prevent someone from enjoying physical activity and competitive sport. For decades, the CAF has partnered with Paul Mitchell, raising money through events like cut-a-thons, in which hairdressers volunteer their time, and shaggy athletes and their families get their locks lopped off for a worthy cause. 

For Paul Mitchell representatives who experience races first-hand, the invigorating spirit of XTERRA is inspiring. 

True to the global spirit of the sport, challenged athletes from all around the world are drawn to XTERRA. In China, Jiachao Wang, who lost his left arm in a horrific accident when he was five, showcased astounding resilience, teaching himself to swim as a child and going on to win gold at the Paralympics. 

Wang’s skills in the water earned him Paralympic gold, but his biggest gift as an athlete is his mental fortitude. In 2017, Wang turned his focus to XTERRA. Wang, already a Paralympic champion in swimming, now hopes to qualify for China’s 2021 Paralympic triathlon team. In the meantime, his dedication and resolve inspire his fellow athletes—both challenged and able-bodied. 

Judy Abrahams, an XTERRA athlete from Alaska, was a multi-time Ironman finisher when, in 2006, she suffered a catastrophic injury. Ultimately, for Abrahams, losing a limb meant gaining a chance to move forward with her life. 

Like Abrahams, all XTERRA athletes, understand the power of sport to improve their days, and ultimately their lives. Even with disabilities, these XTERRA warriors strive to improve, to persevere, to get stronger, faster and tougher. 

Excuses have never been part of Willie Stewart’s repertoire. Stewart, a former wrestler and rugby player, lost his left arm in a construction accident when he was eighteen. For a few dark months after the trauma, he struggled, thinking his athletic days were behind him. But with the encouragement of his mother, and some sports mentors, including Bob Babbitt, Stewart started triathlon and discovered that even without an arm, he was really fast. 

Stewart’s tenacity and dedication to training are the foundation of his success. But the improvement in prosthetic technology has also helped him to excel. 

The first athlete to race an XTERRA with a prosthetic arm, Stewart was a pioneer for disabled endurance athletes, figuring it out as he went along. Now a veteran of seven XTERRA World Championships, he inspires both able-bodied and challenged athletes with his fast finishes, and his willingness to do tough things. 

Willie Stewart knows the outlook for challenged athletes today is much brighter than it was when he had his accident. 

"I think that eighteen-year-old kid now would be pretty lucky. Because someone would walk into the hospital room and say, you know, get off your ass and let's get some stuff done. And no one said that to me. No one told me that I could do anything. All I heard was “too bad,” “so sad.” And now I know that folks in the hospital with an amputation, kids are born with disabilities. There is always someone visiting mom and dad, someone visiting the hospital. Somebody is in there all the time to motivate them early and believe in them and challenge them to be more than what they would think of themselves. It's like, you can do anything, but you can't do anything unless you get the guts, the courage to get on that starting line." Willie Stewart said.