After canceled Olympic competition, para-athlete shifts focus to Ironman

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Mary Kate Callahan is ranked fourth in the world in her para-athlete classification, and she says that's just the beginning. (WLS)

So what do you do when you work hard enough in your sport to have a shot at the Olympics, but then the committee cancels your competition?

If you're Mary Kate Callahan, you switch gears and set your sights on becoming an "Ironman."

Callahan is ranked fourth in the world in her para-athlete classification, and she says that's just the beginning. Despite being paralyzed from the waist down, she is a lightning-fast racer and a fierce competitor. She is now prepping for a new title.

Most people don't think much about their shoulders, but for 19-year-old Callahan, it's an area of heavy concentration.

"My shoulders are like anyone else's legs, I guess," she said. "My shoulders and my arms, they're put through the ringer I guess."

A virus that attacked her spinal cord when she was just 5-months-old left her paralyzed from the waist down. But her disability has never slowed her down.

While attending Fenwick High School, she was captain of the 2012 state championship runner-up swim team and sued the Illinois High School Association to allow disabled swimmers to compete at the state championship level.

"I kinda tried all the sports out there," she said. "I did snow skiing, water skiing, tennis. You name it, I probably tried it. But I really found a love for swimming and eventually swimming led into triathlon and I haven't looked back since."

In October 2014, she clocked an impressive two hour and 38-minute finish in the Chicago Marathon. She says she signed up to keep busy while waiting to hear if her sport would be included in the 2016 Olympics. The news was disappointing.

"What that means ultimately is that no girls in wheelchairs will be competing in Rio for the sport of para-triathlon in 2016," she said.

Now, the LaGrange, Ill., native is concentrating on staying healthy. She sees the same shoulder specialist who treats the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. His medical group is also a sponsor for her sport.

"A unique athlete like that as we all know needs personal support, spiritual support, financial support and medical support," said Dr. Gregory Nicholson, Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. "It's a category of athlete that I don't think people think about too much. It deals with a lot of things adolescence and pediatrics, disability, high-level competitive athletics and so we're very proud to help support Mary Kate."

She says she can hardly wait to achieve her next goal, completing the Ironman Competition. That includes swimming, biking and running.

"To hear those words: 'Mary Kate you are an Ironman,' after you compete for almost 13 hours in a day, I'm so excited and I think that's what's going to drive me these next couple of months," she said.

Callahan is hopeful she will compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. She is currently in Orlando participating in the Disney marathon. Of course, we wish her good luck.

Related Topics:
sportssportsdisabilitydisability issuesOlympicsLa Grange
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