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Paratriathletes who trained in Colorado Springs prepare for Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro

July 6, 2016 Updated: July 6, 2016 at 8:47 pm
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Rich Cruse/USA Triathlon

Looking back on his athletic career, Krige Schabort has a hard time picking his favorite moment.

There were his two New York City Marathon wheelchair victories. The gold medal at the 2014 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships. The 2015 ESPY award for best male athlete with a disability.

This September, he'll have another athletic accomplishment to add when he competes for Team USA in the first triathlon at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Schabort, a South African native and one of eight paratriathletes to travel to Rio in September, will be making his sixth trip to the Paralympics and his second with the United States.

"Sometimes I have to slap myself on the face to wake up and realize that this has really happened," Schabort, 52, said. "It's been a very long career, but an amazing career."

As a member of the South African Army fighting in the Angolan Civil War, Schabort lost both legs in a bomb attack at 24 years old. Five Paralympic Games later, he's one of the top paratriathlon athletes in the world and trains six to seven days a week on the bike, in the pool and on his marathon wheelchair.

The team held week-long training sessions at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs back in January and February, and the eight athletes from around the country will meet in San Diego for a camp shortly before September's Paralympic Games.

Eighteen-year-old Grace Norman will be at that camp, and is one of two athletes competing in two sports - triathlon and track. Norman will compete in the PT4 class for athletes with mobility impairments, and Schabort is in PT1 for wheelchair athletes.

"To be on the first-ever paratriathlon team is an honor," she said. "I'm just excited to represent my country."

Norman was born without a lower left leg, but her family and athletic teams never treated her differently. Her older sister Bethany, a collegiate runner at Cedarville University, served as a role model for the aspiring track star.

"She was always a runner so I always wanted to chase her," Norman said. "Being able to compete in the able-bodied world has pushed me to my limits. I know I have a prosthetic leg, but I don't view myself as anything different."

The Ohio native's specialty is the 5K run portion of the triathlon. Norman was the first amputee to qualify for the Ohio High School Athletic Association cross country and track and field tournaments, and according to the Team USA website, was also the first American high school amputee to reach the podium at a state tournament.

Schabort holds his own accomplishments, including a bronze medal in the marathon at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Barcelona and a silver medal in the same race at the Sydney Games in 2000.

"It's an amazing feeling to do something else again and be successful," Schabort said. "This has been a wonderful journey. This sport brought me what nothing else would have."

After his paratriathlon event on Sept. 10, he'll come home and rest.

He said he may do the New York City Marathon again, but he can't go too long without training.

His body can't handle life without motion.

For now, he will keep training - six to seven days a week, three hours each day. There will be plenty of time for reminiscing later.

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