When the 29 athletes competing in the Ultraman Canada triathlon dive into the waters of Skaha Lake Saturday, history will be made.
The event has never had a wheelchair paraathlete in its 14 years take on the 10-kilometre swim, 420.2-km bike ride and 84.3-km run until now.
Andre Kajlich is a double amputee, whom race director Steve Brown described as a world-class athlete.
His resume includes being the first wheelchair athlete to compete in the Brazil 135 Ultramarathon, he won the Ironman World Championship in Kona in 2012 as well as the Ironman 70.3 Handcycle championship among other para triathlon races. In 2012, Kajlich was ranked No.1 in the International Triathlon Union rankings.
A researcher at the University of Washington, Kajlich decided to enter Ultraman Canada because he was looking for the next big thing and had his sights set on Ultraman Canada for some time.
“This Ultraman is the next obvious triathlon after Ironman,” said Kajlich. “I’m very curious to come out and see what I can do.”
Kajlich, who resides in Seattle, Wash., was studying abroad in the Czech Republic in his parents’ native Prague in 2003 when he lost both his legs in an accident that occurred while he was out late with friends. Kajlich went to the local subway station to get home, but doesn’t recall what happened. He ended up on the subway tracks as the train was arriving and the driver couldn’t stop in time. Kajlich then moved to Seattle to begin a long rehabilitation process that led to him swimming for exercise. In 2011, he learned about paratriathlons.
When asked what it’s like to compete in triathlons, Kajlich said, “I imagine it’s not so different from anybody else doing them. Come up with a goal and start working on it.”
Kaljich began doing triathlons in 2010 and uses a hand cycle. Over time, he found himself gravitating towards the longer, grittier stuff.
“That’s really what I like,” he said.
The 35-year-old has some knowledge of the course and has checked out the bike elevation. For the run portion, he’s hoping to use a standard wheelchair, though depending on the terrain, he does have an off-road chair.
“I will more or less take it as it comes. That is part of the fun of taking on the challenge as it happens,” said Kajlich. “You can’t plan for everything.”
Kajlich will be competing alongside five returnees and seven who crewed last year. The athletes represent Canada, the United States, Norway, Australia, Spain and Malaysia.
Athletes begin the journey with a 10-km swim in Skaha Lake from Penticton to Sovereign Road near Okanagan Falls. After which, they will complete a 144.8-km bike ride. On Aug. 3, the race continues with competitors cycling a 274.2-km bike route from Penticton to Osoyoos. They return to Okanagan Falls, then climb to Willowbrook and Twin Lakes to Princeton and finish at the Princeton Arena. The event finishes Monday at Memorial Park in Summerland. For the first time, live streaming is offered of selected portions of the event from www.ultramancanada.com.
Shaw Cable has provided the appropriate connections to make streaming possible. The local community has been incredibly supportive of this event, most notably the IGA in OK Falls, Jack Kelly Coffee, The Bike Barn, District of Summerland, Town of Princeton, OK Falls Parks & Recreation, Speedo, Hammer Nutrition, Hoodoo Adventures, Peach City Runners, Impact Canopy, Schoenne Appraisals and Cannery Brewing.