Racing Whole-Heartedly

Working Out the Details


June and July were packed with traveling from Pennsylvania to Indiana and then Wisconsin with only three weeks in between. In June, we packed up the truck, very strategically and prepared ourselves for the long road ahead. We were headed to Leon's Triathlon.


We joke and call ourselves road warriors but it is true. We’ve done this time after time. Our girls are champs at these trips, but honestly, they know no different. They’ve been traveling since they were born and have become used to this lifestyle.


Indiana was a fast course. I had no competition, so there was very little to compare myself to other than racing my own time and knowing the times of my competitors.




By the time Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin rolled around, I was unsure if I was going to have a handler, for not only this race but also the upcoming Toyota Legacy ParaTriathlon at Long Beach, California. We planned to complete Leon's Triathlon and Pleasant Prairie without a handler due to all the COVID rules. With COVID rules, not only do I have to test negative to travel to races but again to compete in the race once I arrive. Of course, each race is different and requires different safety rules. Tes was unsure she wanted to test at all, but after contemplating it she decided to do so. Once we were in Wisconsin the news came that we needed to test AGAIN and not only was it mandatory for athletes to test to compete, it was also mandatory for handlers. The tests were also at the athlete's and handlers' own expenses. We had looked into going to a nearby pharmacy to get tested for free but the race required a PCR test. The local pharmacies did not provide this test. We both agreed that Tes would not test again and that I could probably manage this race without her.


This is the race where I not only learned how much my wife does during these races but that she is a necessity. I would guess that I lost roughly 40 seconds without her being my handler, but every second counts. Although I did not come in first, I was finally ranked internationally. I knew that in order to beat my competition I would need to have my wife as my handler in Long Beach for Nationals.


I was happy to have some competition at this race. Howie Sanborn has been one of my biggest motivators this year. Over the past 6 months, I had been trying to beat his times. Pleasant Prairie was a great race in the fact that I had other competitors in my division. Racing ParaTriathlon is difficult as there is not a large number of participants. At a race, I am often the only one in my division. Which is great for that #1 spot. However, you miss the challenge of racing other individuals and gathering at the end of a race well done. You miss the opportunity to catch up on what we did well, and what we could improve on. I knew here that I would have to give my all while I chased down the other competitors in my division. With all of the work we put into the race, we took home 3rd place.


What does this all mean?


I’ll try to break this down for you, but complete transparency; I am still trying to understand this too.


While racing in ParaTriathlon there are multiple “sport classes”. Each category is based on the athlete's physical disability and the mobility devices each athlete will need to compete. Then based on which sport class you classify for determines how you race.


The PTWC (ParaTriathlon Wheelchair) class is broken into two subgroups.


H1 athletes have moderately impaired legs and are affected in their core and arms while H2 athletes are affected in their legs but have a good core, shoulder, and arm strength. I am classified as an H2. The two sub-groups compete on a staggered start. When we begin the ParaTriathlon, H1’s take off when the air horn blows, and H2’s, like myself, wait for 3 minutes and 8 seconds after the H1’s begin. This staggered start time is re-evaluated each year. For more information and where I was able to get the above information check out LEXI global.

Closing the Gap

This staggered start gap was one of my biggest goals this season. I needed to find a way to close it. I was looking at my time for each category and seeing that I was able to win if only I could close this gap. The first thing I could think of is my weight. With such a short time period in between races, I couldn't see making a significant change in my training being effective, something else had to change. My weight was the only thing I could control over the next three weeks before Nationals at Long Beach. My wife and I came home from Wisconsin ready to crush it! We bought meal prep containers and lowered our carb intake.


Time for Nationals came and I had lost 8lbs. We got to California and went grocery shopping to continue our good eating before the race. We bought salads and shredded rotisserie chicken, shredded beef for tacos, and an insulated grocery bag to keep the mini-fridge overflow chilled. We only had two more days until race day and a celebration of a Brazillian Steakhouse meal to follow. The light was right there at the end of the tunnel.

Dawn Joining the Stinson Team

Race day approached and we were blessed to have some friends (more like family) out there. Our Semper Fi & America's Fund liaison Dawn, who has been with us since I arrived at the hospital from Afghanistan in 2010 came to support us. She kept the kids busy, gathered photos, and put herself to work joining our team.


Racing WholeHeartedly


Wheelchair athletes were asked to keep their day wheelchairs at the swim finish line and then they would be assisted over to the start line. I'd roughly say this was about a 100-yard transfer. We got to the finish line and no one was there. Quickly Tes told me she would piggyback me to start. I quickly said no, we have never done this, very hesitant to trust her with my weight on her back through the thick sand. We, however, made it to the start without her dumping me in the sand.

The race kicked off, I tried to go out fast but that was impossible to maintain. After about 250 meters I slowed down to my normal race pace. Once at the swim finish line, my wife informed me I was about 4 minutes behind the lead racer, Howie. We hustled back to transition pushing and Tes ran alongside me as fast as we could. Once back at transition we ripped off the wet suit and dried off slightly, throwing all swim gear off, hydrating, and jumping onto the bike ready for my 12.4-mile bike.

The bike course had us making four laps on our bikes. Each lap my wife would call out how much time was between myself and the lead. In the first lap, there was a 3-minute gap, the second lap a minute and a half gap, and on the third lap she yelled “25 SECONDS!!!”. I screamed back in excitement “I SEEN ‘EM!”. I pushed as fast as I could. Finally and surprisingly, I passed him about halfway through our last lap. We pulled into transition together. My wife was standing there with my day chair ready for me to transition into it before transitioning into the pushrim. This was our normal routine. With excitement, I just jumped out of my bike and onto the road and up into the pushrim and took off. Although I trained and pushed for this I never thought I'd actually be leading this race.


Leading a race is much more nerve-racking than chasing in a race. Constantly wondering how far behind you they are. When you're chasing you can see them (hopefully) up ahead. But maintaining, holding the lead, that is a lot of pressure.


We crossed the finish line with 32 seconds between us. I WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP! This was my fastest race this season, and of course my most proud. I put EVERYTHING I had into this and it all paid off.


-Zach