Missing arm doesn’t dampen athlete’s spirit
When Omar Bermejo crossed the finish line, there was a natural double-take from many people who saw him.
A one-armed triathlete?
“This was a tough one,” he said about the Desert’s Edge Triathlon on Sunday. “The swim was great, the bike was fast, and the run was good but really tough.”
The former U.S. Marine, who now lives in Casper, Wyoming, took up triathlons about three years ago.
After four tours in Iraq, Bermejo came home happy and healthy. But then he had a motorcycle accident and that hideous crash cost him his right arm about 10 years ago.
That amputated arm didn’t crush his athletic spirit at all.
When talking about competing, Bermejo’s smile rarely disappears. He loves the sport.
Bermejo, 35, is a former paralympian who competed in the Sochi, Russia, Paralympics in 2014, competing in the biathlon (cross-country skiing and shooting).
“After that, I wanted to switch it around a little bit, so I thought I’d try triathlons,” he said.
The first question that comes to mind, is how tough is it to swim with just one arm?
This new mission wasn’t easy, he admitted.
“I’m still learning, swimming is the toughest discipline to master. The more you do, better you get.
“Basically, the concept of streamlining, and since I only have one arm, I tend to go to one side, so going straight was tough at first,” he said.
Obviously, losing his arm took an emotional toll but it wasn’t long before he was back being active.
“When you lose your arm and you’re with a bunch of military guys, who unfortunately have lost a body part, you talk to them and they open your mind to everything that’s out there,” he said.
Getting on with his new reality wasn’t all that difficult, he said.
“It really wasn’t that hard, of course losing an arm is a big deal, but as far as avenues in rehab, there’s not a shortage of things to find,” he said.
But still, taking up triathlons offered unique challenges, and it didn’t take long before he was questioning his decision.
“My first triathlon, in the middle of the swim, I thought ‘this is not for me,’ ” he said with a smile. “As soon as I got to the bike and run, I was like “OK, I can do this.’ “
For his second triathlon, the lessons of the first one were quick to kick in.
“I made sure I trained harder the second time,” he said, again with a smile.
Cycling with one arm, was another adjustment, He doesn’t use a prosthetic and has a regular bike with regular handlebars.
“I’m pretty comfortable now, but it took a while when I first started,“he said
The run is his favorite part.
“I like the run, I’ve been a runner my whole life, since high school, so I’m pretty good at it,” he said.
Bermejo is currently a member of the U.S. Para Triathlon Team and just finished his first professional season.
After three years learning and preparing for the unique physical challenges he faces in the sport, Bermejo has come a long ways.
“It’s always a lot of fun,” he said.
After the rough waters of his first triathlon, Bermejo is happy that he decided to give triathlons a try, There was also, no chance he was going to quit once he started.