Travis Oldhouser crosses the finish line during the 2016 NVWG. Photo by Audrey Nissen
Training pays off for Oldhouser in exhibition event
Paratriathlon made its debut Thursday at the 36th National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
There were just nine athletes who participated in the paratriathlon in Salt Lake City, which combines a 200-yard swim, 10-kilometer handcycle and 2.5K road race.
The morning started with the swimming component, which was the highlight of the race for Army veteran Travis Oldhouser. It was a time trial individual start, meaning athletes began the race one at a time and had an electronic chip placed somewhere on their body that recorded their official start and finish times.
Oldhouser, a C5-6 quadriplegic, got off to a good start in his second Games appearance and first paratriathlon post-injury.
Oldhouser is all smiles before the race. Photo by Audrey Nissen
“All the training worked, all the things [my] coaches told [me] to do,” he said. “It’s just like being in the military, you fall back on your training, trust your training, and you get prepared that way. I feel great. I feel like I could do another one, but my body probably wouldn’t tell you that.”
While Oldhouser was pleased with how strong he felt in the swimming portion, he likes all three disciplines equally.
“It’s back-to-back, and typically not everybody’s strong in all of them, except for the elite athletes, but I was happy with my swim. Being a quad, that’s always the biggest challenge," Oldhouser said. "The course really played to my favor because it was flat. And it was cloud cover, it wasn’t that typically 100-degree weather we had [earlier in the week].”
Oldhouser is originally from Pennsylvania but is moving to Arizona, where he can train year round. He plans to eventually join the Paralyzed Veterans of America Arizona Chapter.
He trained about six months for the paratriathlon but also plays quad rugby and does CrossFit.
He said he learned that he needs to get a push-rim racing chair rather than using his rugby chair for the road race portion of the course.
“Experience speaks for everything, and having that under my belt now and realizing what it takes and how it feels, just push the envelope and get a better time,” he said. “I hope they make this a medal event.”
Oldhouser already earned a silver medal in weightlifting. He will play in the championship match for quad rugby on Saturday, and 10K handcycling is also on his agenda.
He said the drive and teamwork his military service instilled in him is what keeps him motivated.
“The just-never-give-up attitude, no matter what branch service we were in, I believe either you have it or you don’t. But serving in the military, it trains you how to nurture that and it just becomes a part of your DNA,” he said. “It’s almost to a fault where you start becoming competitive, but you also want to see your fellow veterans do just as well.”
Oldhouser’s ultimate goal is to break barriers for quadriplegics in adaptive sports.
“We kind of have the cards stacked against us with limited mobility, but you just never know what you’re capable of until you push that envelope and make a breakthrough,” he said. “It’s like an ah-ha moment, and you just get addicted to it. You want more of it, it just pushes you.”
He says the best things about the Games are being around his fellow veterans and having his family involved.
“My wife looks forward to this just as much as I do, with the camaraderie, with other spouses, with other veterans, and you sort of miss that after your injury. You miss that sense of team that you had in the military that they emphasize so much that really gets the mission accomplished,” he said. “I hadn’t had that for 15 years, and you get it here and it’s like you’re on active duty again. We’re here supporting each other, and you have a common goal. It’s great.”
Overall, he enjoys pushing his limits in the individual sports, but even in those sports it takes teamwork to make it all happen.
“Even with the triathlon, without my handlers and volunteers, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said. “So even if it’s an individual event or if it’s a ‘team’ sport, it still takes a team to put the Games on, and it’s amazing. They motivate us, we motivate them, and it’s just a great experience.”