Learning to Run

André Palermo Szücs, currently a resident of San
Diego, was born and raised in Florianópolis, Brazil. Due to a congenital
birth defect, Szücs was born missing the lower portion of his right leg,
while the middle three fingers of his right hand are webbed.

“I spent my entire life trying to be and stay active,”
Szücs told O&P Business News. “I learned how to walk on my
first prosthesis when I was less than a year old.”

Although Szücs was an active child and played sports, he was
self-conscious about his prosthesis and constantly wore pants to hide it. It
wasn’t until he discovered mountain biking when he was about 10 years old
that he finally began to feel comfortable.

“When I started riding is when I started feeling better about
myself,” Szücs said. “After that, I started really focusing on
sports, and I spent every single weekend mounting biking and exploring all of
the trails. I no longer had any concerns about my leg and was extremely
positive, not caring if people were staring.”

Szücs completed a 25-day biking trip with friends, covering 700
miles of the Brazilian coast. Around this time, Szücs also began to swim
competitively, earning a spot on the Brazilian Paralympic team.


“It was so rewarding. I was a competitive swimmer for about 8
years,” Szücs said. “I represented my country in several
international races and got to travel the world.”


Competing in a triathlon had always been a goal for Szücs, and with
his aptitude for biking and swimming, it was the logical progression for his
athletic career.

“The first year that the Ironman was held in my town in Brazil was
2001, so I went and watched and saw an amputee, Rivaldo Martins,
competing,” Szücs said. “It was really inspiring, and I could
really identify with him and the sport. I knew that I wanted to do it.”

Unfortunately, at the time, Szücs’ prosthesis was only
designed for walking, so he had to place his triathlon dreams on hold until he
could acquire a running foot.

In 2004, Szücs applied for a grant from the Challenged Athletes
Foundation (CAF), an organization committed to providing opportunities for
people with physical disabilities to pursue active lifestyles. He received the
grant and acquired his first running foot shortly thereafter.

“My main goal was to start running because it was something that I
had never been able to do,” Szücs said. “I learned how to run
after getting my first running foot from CAF, and it was a major turning point
in my life.”

Szücs competed in his first triathlon in 2005, and although he
admits that his running form was poor, he continued to improve, participating
in his first Ironman competition in 2007.


An Ironman triathlon involves a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and
26.2-mile run. Szücs was invited by a friend to join him for Ironman
Brazil in his hometown of Florianópolis, but Szücs was hesitant at
first, having only been running for 2 years.

“I had just started running and thought that running a marathon
after already swimming and biking was unthinkable and something that I just
would not be able to accomplish,” he said.

Szücs initially told his friend no, but only a week later changed
his mind and signed up for the race.

“I spent one week thinking about it and decided that I was in good
shape, and cycling and swimming would not be a problem,” Szücs said.
“This could lead me to the marathon, and I would just do my best. If I had
to stop, I would stop.”

Szücs finished the race in 14 hours, 50 minutes, and 39 seconds. He
completed the swim portion in less than an hour, the bike portion in 6 and a
half hours and the run portion in 7 hours and 18 minutes.


“Basically half of my race was spent running. Well I’m not
sure I could even call that running,” Szücs joked. “A lot of
that time was spent walking.”

Move to the US

After completing his first Ironman, Szücs started focusing on races
with shorter distances. Around the same time, Szücs was visiting San Diego
for a CAF race, when he met his future wife, Heather, at the finish line.

“At the end of the race, she came up and introduced herself,
because she had visited Brazil before so she felt comfortable talking to
me,” Szücs said. “I actually ended up following up with her
afterwards, and we began dating.”

Szücs and Heather dated long distance for 2 years before he moved
from Brazil to San Diego.

“In 2009, my life really changed,” Szücs said. “I
was in a new country, had new goals and new responsibilities.”

They were married shortly after, and Szücs began a new career as a
business development associate for Hanger Inc.

In 2011, Szücs earned a spot in the Ford Ironman World Championship
in Kona, Hawaii, the most difficult and coveted race in the Ironman series.

“For athletes in the physically challenged division, amputees and
hand-cyclers, the only chance to enter the race is through a lottery
program,” Szücs said. “It’s a year-long process, starting
with the application in February. The winners are chosen in April, and then we
start planning and training for the race, which occurs in October.”

In preparation for his second Ironman, Szücs spent anywhere between
10 hours to 15 hours per week training dividing his time between the three
sports. He completed his second Ironman competition in 12 hours, 52 minutes and
38 seconds, first in his division.

“Competing in the Ironman Kona and being able to participate in the
world championship has been my biggest triathlon accomplishment to date,”
Szücs said.

Focus on family

Since the Ironman, Szücs has spent less time focusing on racing,
and in early 2012, Szücs and his wife welcomed their first daughter,

“She is 7 months old now, and it is a whole new life for me,”
Szücs said. “It’s been great, and I am really enjoying it.
It’s hard to balance work and training and family, but I am confident that
I’ll be competing at the elite level again in 2013.”

Currently, Szücs is focusing on his family, work and enjoying other
athletic pursuits such as surfing, mountain biking and shorter training
sessions. He continues to be an active part of the CAF community, participating
in races as a sponsored athlete and helping with adaptive clinics in the San
Diego area.

“I am so honored to be sponsored by CAF, and it has been so
rewarding for me to be a part of this team,” Szücs said. “I will
always be there for CAF because it is such an important organization, and their
impact is felt around the world.”

Szücs is also a consulting triathlon coach and encourages others to
pursue their athletic goals.

“You cannot be afraid of trying. If you want to try a sport, just
figure out a way and go for it, because there are plenty of resources and other
people out there who can help you,” he said. “What I always share
with recent amputees is that I see life so positively and they can also have
this positivity. The fun is out there, and that is when we jump in and help
them.” — by Megan Gilbride

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.