In November 2011, I didn't know how to run. But after living up to a dare to finish one 10k race, I knew I wanted to do more. I did a Spartan Race, a beginner triathlon, two half marathons...and loved every minute of them. Nowadays, I figure there are no limits to what I'm capable of. Come along on my journey as I explore the road less travelled, test my own limits, and maybe even inspire others to do the same.
I first met Rob Buren at
the LPC Florida Triathlon Camp back in 2015 – and then saw him again at camp this
year, where I learned more about his incredible journey and quest to qualify
for Kona. I asked him if I could interview him for this blog – and he was more
than happy to participate. Of course, you can find out more about Rob’s journey
on his own awesome blog: Rock The Chair.
The amazing thing about profiling Rob is that
he answered my interview questions on his way to competing in the Texas Buffalo
Springs 70.3 race – one of only three Kona qualifying races for handcyclists.
In Texas, Rob came in second in his division, earning his chance to be
one of just four handcyclists to compete on the Big Island (and here I thought competing
for Age Group Kona slots was difficult!). Can’t wait to cheer him on come
So, without further ado –
here is my pre-race interview with Rob!
Tell me a bit about
yourself – have you always been into sport?
I’ve always been active,
but I wouldn’t really have considered myself an athlete until I started
training for my first half Ironman in 2012. I grew up on a bicycle and loved
anything with two wheels. As a young kid in my big brother’s shadow, as soon as
he let me ride his minibike I was hooked on motors and going fast.In my teens I had a few junkie dirtbikes,
when I turned 17 I got my first street motorcycle, and once I started working I
took up Amateur motorcycle racing.In
2008 my wife, Sabrina and I trained for and completed our first half-marathon.
That same summer I purchased a carbon bike and loved it. The plan was to look
into triathlon in 2009.Unfortunately,
two weeks after my half-marathon, I broke my back in a mountain biking
Fortunately, someone in
rehab learned that I wanted to do triathlon and connected me with Chris Bourne,
one of the pioneers of paratri.Knowing
it was possible, I set out on my journey to become a paratriathlete. Just weeks
after breaking my back I was on a borrowed handcycle doing laps around the
hospital. Over the next year I learned how to push the racing chair and swim
without the use of my legs.I went from
completing one event to the next, and in September of 2012 I did my first
triathlon, the Wasaga Olympic distance.I was hooked.
What has been your biggest
accomplishment – in life and/or in sport so far?
My biggest life
accomplishment is a work in progress… trying to stay positive and productive
since breaking my back in October of 2008. It’s a daily decision to make the
best of what ability I still have, and live life to the fullest. Some days are
better than others (like everyone), but overall, I’m surrounded by an
incredible wife, kids, family and friends that keep me motivated and positive.
I’m lucky that way.
In terms of sport,
completing the Full Louisville Ironman in 2013 has to be my biggest
accomplishment. No other Canadian paraplegic had finished this distance, and in
the beginning I wasn’t 100% I could either.On August 25th 2013, both Sabrina and I completed the race and proved to
ourselves that we can achieve big athletic (and mental) goals. This is a
special accomplishment that means a great deal to us.
7 or 8 years ago, you had a
major spinal cord injury. What was (or is) the most challenging part of dealing
with this kind of injury?
I often tell people “not
walking is the easy part of being paraplegic”. It’s the stuff that people don’t
see, and few paraplegics will talk about, that are hard.Neuropathic pain, loss of bathroom and sexual
function are my big ones. In terms of accessibility, there are few places that
I can’t go, or things I can’t do, the challenge is finding the energy, patience
and resources to want to venture into inaccessible or inhospitable territory. I
know that Canada is a good place to have an injury like this, but there are
still many places that are not wheelchair accessible.
What prompted you to sign
up for your first Ironman? What did it mean to you to cross that finish line?
A few able-bodied friends
had completed the Full IM, and I was in awe of the accomplishment. I hate the
idea of being left behind, and I love a challenge, so this seemed like a pretty
good one to tackle.Over a few years I
proved to myself that I could do each discipline on its own, but wasn’t sure if
my arms would agree to do them all in one day.Crossing the finish line was a little emotional for me. Putting so much
effort into a goal like that, when it happens it’s pretty special.Having my daughters there was icing on the
What’s the most difficult
part of triathlon training and/or racing for you? Why?
The hardest part of
triathlon training for me is the solitude. It’s lonely.This year I’ve found someone to swim with,
which has been great.For every two
lengths I do, she does three. We push each other and it’s great knowing that
she’ll be at the pool waiting for me.For the bike though, I’m slower than most able-bodied cyclists so unless
they’ve got a recovery ride to do, the speed difference makes it hard to find a
cycling partner.When it comes to
running, I’m averaging 18 km/h in training, so I’m faster than able-bodied
runners.Also, I do most of my training
during the weekdays, so unless you’re retired or self-employed, it’s not likely
that my friends are available to join me.
You’ve now set your sights
on Kona. Why? What do you see as your biggest challenge toward accomplishing this
After I completed the full
in Louisville, I found myself in a bit of pickle. I know I can do it now, but do I want to train to just do it faster?Kona is Ironman, and the thought of racing
with the world’s best is big enough to motivate me to go for it and to suck up
all the shit (good and bad) that comes with it.Qualifying is the biggest challenge right now. There are only 4 or 5
male handcycle slots every year. There are only 3 races at which to qualify for
one of these spots.Australia Half IM in
Cairns had one, Luxembourg, the week later had two, and I’m currently flying to
the middle of Texas to complete for the last male slot. If no women
handcyclists race, there will be 2 slots for men.9 handcyclists have signed up, so it’s going
to be an interesting race.Last year I
raced in Luxembourg and came 4th out of 7.I’m hoping to do better on Sunday.
How has working with Coach
Mark Linseman changed your approach to training (if at all)?
Coach Mark has been great.
He’s invested time in going back and looking at the training and races I’ve
completed the past few years to figure out what we can do differently to
improve.My last coach was all about going
out hard and trying to hang on. With Mark, we’re striving to keep the
enthusiasm in check at the beginning of each discipline so that I can increase
effort throughout. I’m responding better to this approach and my results are
improving, so I would recommend Mark to anyone looking to improve.
Rob and Coach Mark
If someone reading this
blog is interested in any form of paratriathlon, but doesn’t know how to get
started – what advice would you give them?
Call me.There’s a lot to know and if I can accelerate
that process for anyone, I’d be happy to.It might mean that I’ll have someone to train with too.
Rob’s an awesome person – not at all intimidating. Take him up on his offer!
If you’ve learned one thing
over your journey the past eight years, what would it be?
If you commit to a goal,
tell people what you’re seeking to do, and then show the world that you’re
working your ass off to achieve that goal, the world will respond to help you.
I’ve benefitted so much from family, friends and even strangers helping me to
achieve all the things I’ve accomplished since my accident.
I know you do a fair bit of
public speaking, so probably get a lot of questions. What's the one question
you wish more people would ask you? (And what's your answer?).
less that I wish people would ask me a specific question, but rather I hope
that people will ask themselves, “what motivates me and how can I make the most
of any abilities I have?”When people
tell me “oh I couldn’t do that because I have bad knees”, I can’t help but
think “so what, find a way…. Go for a swim… do something”.
Just re-reading this interview with Rob makes me inspired for my next adventure. He's proof positive that whatever happens in life, you can do whatever you set your mind to. So get out there and do it!
Big thanks to Rob for taking time out to chat right before his big (and awesome) race!
To follow Rob to Kona and whatever crazy goals he sets after that...bookmark his blog www.rockthechair.com.