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Triathlon - Kevin Mather: Greatness Found

Paraplegic Valencia High grad has qualified for prestigious Ironman competition

Posted: August 4, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 4, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Valencia High graduate Kevin Mather was left paralyzed after being struck by a truck in 2009. The 29-year-old, though, has earned a spot in the Oct. 13 Ironman World Championship.

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Ironically, not being able to use his legs has worked to Kevin Mather’s advantage in many ways.

The 29-year-old from Valencia has been a paraplegic for more than three years.

On June 24, Mather qualified for the Ironman World Championship when he took second place behind Andre Kajlich in the men’s handicap division at a triathlon race in Lubbock, Texas.

In his division, he’ll be one of five men in the world to have qualified for the prestigious race, which takes place in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on Oct. 13.

“It’s exciting. I’ve always wanted to get it done,” says Mather, a 2000 Valencia High graduate. “There’s always that great dream to be an Ironman athlete.”

Truth be told, he had always taken an interest in running, cycling and all kinds of activities long before he became handicapped.

Like any other kid growing up, he played soccer, baseball and football.

For a season and a half, Mather was the starting center for the Valencia varsity football team.

But team sports were never his favorite. He was more interested in sports that demanded solitude and discipline.

Mather was actually training for a half-marathon on the day of his accident, July 3, 2009, when he was struck by a truck traveling at 60 mph while he was on a bike ride with friends along Sierra Highway.

The accident left him paralyzed from the waist down with permanent damage to his 12th vertebra.

It was an understandably tough blow for an active 26-year-old like Mather at first.

While he was in the hospital recovering, he was given some brochures detailing activities available to paraplegics.

Three years later, he’s coming off a handicapped-division victory in the Los Angeles Marathon in May and is now headed to the most coveted Ironman competition in the world.

“I did stuff as an able-bodied person,” Mather says. “I went snowboarding, and wakeboarding. I’m not going to stop doing stuff now. It’s just what I like to do. I couldn’t imagine sitting down and not doing anything.”

It isn’t limited to triathlons, either.

Mather recently earned his pilot’s license for hand-operated glider planes, which he flies out of Crystal Airport in the Antelope Valley.

He’s taken up snow skiing again, this time with a monoski built for paraplegics.

Basically, if there’s a way to do it, Mather is willing to give it a try.

It’s been that way since he was a kid.

“The guy would do one thing and then he was would get really into it, and then he would go to something else,” says Mark Mather, Kevin’s father.

It made sense when Nike came to Kevin asking for him to appear in a commercial with his racing wheelchair.

The commercial, which first aired last week during NBC’s Olympics coverage, was one part of a new advertising series Nike launched called, “Find Your Greatness.”

The ad demonstrates that everyone, no matter their situation, is capable of greatness – not just the Olympians.

Fittingly, Kevin is shown in the commercial rapidly pushing his racing chair down the road as a sunset and canyons are shown in the background.

In other words, Kevin is shown doing the very thing he’s trained the past 10 months for, and what he considers the biggest athletic endeavor of his life.

And he’s doing it all after having his life flipped upside down just a few years ago.

“I don’t know if he got this from me or his mom, but it’s unbelievable,” Mark says.

The event in Hawaii includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Competitors like Mather use specially designed racing bicycles for the bike version and racing wheelchairs for the run.

Able-bodied or not, it makes for some of the most grueling 140.6 miles in sports.

“It’s the crown jewel of them all, it’s the Super Bowl. It culminates the whole year. It all comes down to that,” says David Bailey, a former Ironman World Championship winner in the handicapped division, who is helping train Mather.

Since he made the decision to try for Ironman Kona, Kevin has built up to an intense training regimen that currently entails 17-19 hours of biking, wheeling and swimming per week.

Someone like Kevin will probably finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 hours, Bailey predicts.

Kevin said his intentions are simple: Complete the race in a respectable time.

Bailey says you can’t count Kevin out.

“Kevin is a sleeper,” Bailey says. “You meet him and you think – he’s not a wimp or anything – but he doesn’t have that super gnarly athletic look that you see in some other athletes. But man, he’s fast.”

Ironman Kona isn’t necessarily about winners and losers though. No money is awarded to the first-place finisher.

It’s more about completing the journey.

For Kevin Mather, perhaps it’s about finding his own greatness.

 

 

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