Introducing Tricia Downing, a multi-sport athlete, author, keynote speaker and director for Camp Discovery, a camp for women in wheelchairs who want to explore fitness opportunities. She is truly redefining ability for others, and she’s got grit!
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
What sport or sports do you play? I am a competitive shooter. I shoot air pistol and sport pistol. I am also a former triathlete.
What is your sports story? I’ll try to give you the short story. I was a competitive cyclist in 2000, and I was out on a training ride on September 17th when I was hit by car. Then, I was paralyzed from the chest down. I was treated at Craig Hospital here in Colorado and their rec-therapy department is very good. They said, “You came in here as an athlete, and we want to make sure you leave an athlete.” They helped me learn all of the sports I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to be a hand cyclist because I was a cyclist. So I learned how to hand cycle. They taught me to use a racing chair. They also got me back into the pool. When I got out of the hospital I decided I didn’t want to go back to hand cycling because most of the races at that time were held in conjunction with bike racing. That was just hard- mentally and emotionally for me, so I ended up doing triathlons. At that time, there really weren’t a lot of people in chairs doing triathlons. I knew of a couple of men who had done the Ironman, but on the local level in women sports I didn’t know of anyone doing them. I had to figure it out on my own. Fortunately, I had a really great support crew of friends including my cycling coach and my cycling teammates.
Then, I started getting the Ironman bug and wanted to go to Hawaii to do the Ironman. My first Ironman was in 2005, and I qualified for Hawaii in 2006 and 2010. Altogether, I started six Ironman races and finished two because I didn’t always make the time cut. The time cut is established on able-bodied athletes, and for a female in a wheelchair, it is a very difficult time to make.
In the spring of 2011 I got recruited to try out for USA rowing. But I pushed too hard and too fast, and ended up injured. I then had to have a variety of surgeries and could no longer go back to doing triathlons. Now, my main sport is shooting because it is not a stress on my body. But, it is a very difficult mental game. I have only been shooting for one year, however, I am focused on making it to Tokyo in 2020.
What accomplishments in sports are you most proud of? My first Ironman I did in 2005 and the Half Ironman I did to qualify for Hawaii in 2010. Those were both good races for me and great examples of how my hard work and efforts paid off for me.
What is your workout schedule? When I was getting ready for the World Cup I was shooting six days a week. I do shooting drills at home and at the range.
I also do work outs that I enjoy like endurance sports. Additionally, I am working on my mental training with a mental coach. Unlike endurance sports where you can focus on just pushing harder, in shooting it is the opposite. You can’t push harder. It is a finesse thing. You have to be calm and mentally clear-headed.
What’s your mantra that keeps you going during tough workouts or bad days? It isn’t over until it’s over… because in 2006 I did the qualifier for the Ironman in Hawaii. It was a half Ironman in Texas and it was a very difficult race. To qualify you have to finish the course in eight hours, and this course was a beast. So I was there doing it and I was a good four miles from the finish when the eight hour time expired. I just stopped in the road and had a little meltdown. My husband, who was my boyfriend at the time, and friend told me to just cross the finish line even though I wouldn’t qualify. Then, I cross the finish and I find out they changed the time cut to eight and half hours. I ended up finishing in 8:29:46. So, I made it by 14 seconds. See, it’s not over until it’s over.
What superpowers do you possess? My superpower is the power of persistence. When I truly want something or have a challenge to overcome, I will do everything within my means to make it happen. I don’t like to give up…at anything…and even sometimes to the detriment of myself. In the past that has been everything from physical to financial, but I will always keep trying to find new avenues and creative ideas to make my dreams and goals come true. Sometimes that can work against me, because I do believe there is a time to let certain goals go, but for the most part it has served me well.
How would you define ability? Ability is not necessarily about doing things. It’s about being able to live your life, your way, in a way that makes you happy at best and content at worst.
How would you define grit? Grit is the ability to keep fighting for what you want regardless of the circumstances that are handed to you. Being able to persist and to be resilient.
What advice do you have for other athletes? To always find ways to improve your situation. You have to keep your mind open to different ideas and ways of thinking. You have to be flexible and always look for more answers.
Who would you like to thank? There are so many people in my world to thank, it would be impossible to mention them all. I have a wonderfully supportive family that has not only supported me my whole life, but were instrumental in getting me through my accident and equally important are the people I have been fortunate to surround myself with. I pride myself on being a good judge of character and I have some amazing friends who have gone to the ends of the earth to help me achieve my dreams.