“My dream that I held onto that was my driving force was to run again. That’s all I wanted to do and I put that dream before absolutely everything. I fought and clawed and gave everything for that,” he says. Whelan would even go outside with his wheelchair or walker so he could watch people walk and run, studying every detail of how they moved. After four months, Whelan was finally able to get into a prosthetic and started to emulate what he had been observing.
“My first time running again since 2012, I ran just over 4 miles and I felt so incredible. I did not want to stop running,” Whelan says, each word charged with emotion. “When I repeat the story, it doesn’t feel real. It feels like a horrible, horrible, horrible nightmare…But when I think of that moment of running again—that was so powerful, it was so beautiful. Talk about living in the moment and being so incredibly present and living in each step. My dream came true.”
Whelan didn’t stop running and, after seeing a Challenged Athletes Foundation triathlon, he set himself a new dream of becoming a professional triathlete. Adding swimming and cycling to his exercise routine, Whelan transformed himself into a triathlete. “For the first time in seven and a half years, I’m completely pain free and living that dream of being a triathlete,” Whelan smiles. In the midst of his first racing season where he placed 3rd in the national triathlon development series, Whelan was also scouted for the 2028 US Paralympic development team.
Whelan’s recovery process has been, and can still be, extremely difficult, often lonely, and he describes challenge after challenge after challenge, including the scary reality that his CRPS can come back at any time. With his resilience, determination, and highly tuned intentional mindset, however, he continues to surmount impossible odds and incredible feats with an energy that goes beyond inspiration and motivation. The pain, in all measures of the word, has taught him to always choose hope and positivity: “Lincoln says you can complain that a rose bush has thorns or rejoice that a thorn bush has roses…I am just in an incredible space right now that I am beyond blessed and fortunate and trying to make the best of it.”