Photos: Kyle Nowaczyk
“Every day is going to be a great day and it’s up to you to make it a great day,” Mary Kate Callahan states.
The accomplished American Para triathlete is all about empowerment and that started when she was a child. Paralysed from the waist down as an infant, Callahan says the greatest gift her parents gave her was independence. “It was probably so hard for my parents to watch me get myself into a car or get in and out of the pool,” Callahan says, “but because they watched me struggle and let me figure it out, those are all the things I’d do every day without them. That independence is what has allowed me to do every single thing I’m doing today.”
However, as Callahan says, when it comes to her sport, “there’s no guidebook to racing paratriathlon. You can’t just walk into a bike store and pick up a hand cycle and start riding.” She jokes that the hardest part of racing triathlon is lugging all the gear through the airport—which includes both bikes, 6 spare wheels, and her wheelchair—but, like most things in life, Callahan says “the hardest part is starting.”
Fortunately, the paratriathlon community is strong. Callahan encourages athletes and their families, teammates, and coaches to lean into the community for advice and support. “We want to help people, we want to share our knowledge and experiences, because that’s how we got to be where we are today.”
Callahan has placed herself as a resource in the paratriathlon community, mentoring and coaching at camps and clinics, speaking at schools, and working closely with the Dare2Tri paratriathlon club throughout her career.
“Being that role model now for kids brings me so much joy because I can go back to when I was that 6 year old wanting to ask someone those questions myself,” Callahan says. “They can see what I’m doing, how I’m living my life, and they can ask the questions that maybe their parents don’t know how to answer.”
Callahan helps athletes of all ages, not just kids, start or navigate their way into or back into sport, possibly after losing a limb or been paralysed, whether it’s at an elite level or just being able to run with their kids or friends again, and it’s something that Callahan finds extremely rewarding. “To see the confidence that happens over the course of time, from the first day of camp to the last day of camp when they’re crossing a finish line, is truly amazing,” Callahan says.
There might not be a guidebook to parasport but Callahan and so many others in the community have placed themselves as navigators, helping any athlete and their family “figure it out.”
“Don’t hesitate to ask questions. Reach out to organizations,” Callahan urges. “Your resources are going to be people who are in the sport now.” For parents, she encourages the same thing: ask questions, reach out, lean into the community and, as Callahan reassures, “just know that you have an entire community to help and support you in any way.”