Congenital transfemoral amputee and triathlete Creighton Wong already
swam 2 miles, biked 18 miles and ran 8 more. The 37-year-old Wong can hear the
cheers from the faceless crowd on his left and right, but his focus is on each
stride on the long and winding road toward the finish line.
Suddenly, his leg muscles stop firing. A sharp pain enters his tight
hamstring. Wong has already shaved more than 20 minutes off of last year’s
time. Nobody would fault him for walking the rest of the way. But he runs on.
The terrain has been rough, steep and at times uneven — undesirable
conditions for a lower extremity amputee. His sweat-soaked socket is rubbing up
against his residual limb creating what is sure to be a future sore. He runs
on. Someone could be watching. Wong knows this because 5 years ago, it was him
who was watching. It was him who was inspired by an amputee triathlete’s
refusal to yield. For that reason, he runs on.
As luck would have it
Wong’s introduction to triathlons was a 2-year process. He was on
his couch flipping channels in his home in Danville, Calif., just outside of
Oakland, when he discovered
Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) athlete Sarah Reinertsen
running in the Hawaii Ironman competition. That year, Reinertsen timed out and
did not complete the competition.
“I was really gripped and moved by that,” Wong told
O&P Business News. “You could feel how hard she had
worked and she did not complete what she wanted.”
Wong has been participating in triathlons for 5 years.
|Images: Challenged Athletes
A year later, Wong was back on the couch and again flipping channels. By
this time, he had all but forgotten about Reinertsen’s race.
“I probably had not watched or thought of a triathlon since, and I
am flipping channels again and there she is again,” he said. “She
went back and she completed it.”
The moment stuck with Wong. He went on the Internet and started
researching. He ended up at Ossur where he was then referred to CAF and talked
to Jill Pritchard at Catch a Rising Star. Three months later, Wong was on a
plane to San Diego to participate in his first running clinic.
“One of the hosts was Sarah Reinertsen,” Wong said. “This
girl on TV is right in front of me, smiling.”
Reinertsen and other CAF athletes ran the clinic. Wong, who has season
tickets to the Golden State Warriors, Oakland Raiders and the University of
California Golden Bears football team, was immediately hooked.
“I have always been involved in sports both as a competitor and a
spectator,” Wong said. “Sports are a microcosm of life. There are so
many lessons to learn from it in terms of facing adversity and working together
as a team, or even in terms of handling your own business in individual
Like riding a bike
When Wong was born, his right leg was not fully formed. In the summer
after fourth grade, he underwent a surgical procedure in which the surgeon
broke the leg to lengthen and strengthen it. This procedure made it easier for
his prosthetist to build a comfortable prosthesis for Wong.
Always the athlete growing up, Wong played baseball, basketball and
soccer, despite his amputation and missing digits in his hand. His first love
was basketball. Wong routinely played basketball in recreational leagues and
pickup games throughout his college career at University of California, San
Diego. He also has a law degree from University of California, Davis.
“I never had a thought or an idea of being a triathlete,” Wong
admitted. “Most of my life, the technology just was not available for me.
When I was a kid, CAF did not exist. The running blade and knee joints and
Wong said. “I
was just like any other kid trying to learn how to ride a bike — except I
was 33 years old.”
Wong not only had to learn to ride a bike, he had to learn how to ride
while also being clipped into the bike’s pedals. Even for able-bodied
bikers, this takes some time to get used to.
“The other thing is that I have missing digits on my hand, so I
could not brake the bike,” he said. “I could not get the thing to
stop. I was fine when I was moving, but actually getting the bike to stop was a
Wong needed a bike that was adapted to his specific needs. He also
needed a bike leg that was molded and contoured to not only interface with him
but with the bike as well. After some practice and initial falls, Wong was up
and riding his bike.
When you spend three decades doing something one way and then suddenly
change philosophies, like Wong had, the body needs time to adapt.
“I went through a lot of physical therapy,” Wong said. “I
had tendons and ligaments that were tight and imbalances in my muscles. My quad
is strong, but my hamstring was quite weaker.”
Wong would be running during a triathlon when his back would tighten up,
forcing him to walk the rest of the way and adding significant minutes to his
time. However, this is the first year that Wong can honestly say he is
completely healthy. The muscles are loose, the body is properly trained, the
equipment is comfortable and the mind is right.
|Wong had undergone physical
therapy for tight tendons and ligaments and for muscle balance and feels that
this is the first year he is “completely healthy.”
“The biggest thing for me is that I am healthy,” he said.
“That is where I am really taking major chunks off of my times now. The
health and the fitness are better because I work at it more. I will be on the
bike for an hour or 2 and then a run after work.”
At the Avia Wildflower Triathlon in Central California, Wong slashed 48
minutes off of his time. In other races, he has dropped as much as 30 minutes
off of last year’s pace. During press time, Wong was prepping for the
national championships in New York. He hopes to then qualify for the world
championships in Beijing.
‘Figuring it out’
“Now that I am healthy and I have a good idea of what I want, it is
a heck of a lot more fun,” Wong joked. “It is not fun when you are
trying to figure it out. And while you are trying to figure it out, you are
falling all over the place.”
Wong has figured it out, but what does “figuring it out” mean?
For Wong, it was getting healthy, accomplishing personal goals and giving back
to the community.
“Certainly for me, it’s not enough to just race,” he
said. “To me, it is racing with a purpose and giving back to the
community. I try to get these athletes involved and show them that they can do
it, explain how they can do it and then ultimately support them at whatever
Wong lives about a mile and a half away from a 6-year-old girl who is a
below-knee amputee. He occasionally speaks at her school or takes her out to
get yogurt just to remind her that there are people out there who are just like
“I think if you want to feel normal and want others to treat you
normally, you have to be comfortable with yourself,” Wong said.
Wong felt that way while in San Diego for his first CAF running clinic.
He was given the opportunity to talk shop with other athletes and pick their
brains on prostheses or different techniques and said he has an obligation do
the same for other disabled athletes, “to pay it forward.”
Take advantage of opportunities
Wong lives by the notion that if he is just given the opportunity to do
something, he will ultimately take care of the rest. He tries to instill this
with the various challenged athletes he meets at triathlons or CAF clinics and
“These athletes, whether they are amputated as kids or coming back
from the war or were in an accident or suffered from cancer, they still have a
tremendous opportunity right now because the technology is there for them to
get back to a high activity level,” he said. “Access is getting
better, and foundations like CAF make it easier to get your hands on these
devices. Once you are given the opportunity, it is up to the individual to make
the most out of it.”
A disabled individual once asked Wong if he thought he could run a mile.
Wong answered yes, but he had to be prepared to put in the time and the work.
“The guy told me that was what he needed to hear,” Wong said.
“You see these great runners like Reinertsen. She’s been doing it for
decades and that is why she is so good at it. It took me 5 years to figure it
out. But it is great knowing that all the challenged athletes out there make it
a little easier for the up-and-coming athletes … They do not have to
imagine something that does not exist. These future athletes are imagining
something that does exist and they can see it and imagine it for
themselves.” — by Anthony Calabro