AMBASSADOR PROFILE:

BW Ambassador Profile: Mark Barr

Mark Barr has a lot on his mind.

In a couple of days he’s leaving for Spain to compete in the Aguilas ITU World Paratriathlon Event, but his aero extension broke off of his bike and replacement parts have yet to arrive. He’s still got to get the new parts installed, and as we talk Mark tells me that he has to be back up at this very same park at 5am the next morning for a live news broadcast. In the meantime, he’s working 12 hour shifts as a nurse at the Ben Taub Trauma ICU, trying to launch teamcatapult.org, his disabled athletes organization and, oh yeah, train for the very first Olympic Paratriathlon.

These are all things that I did not do when I was 29.

But I suppose that most of Mark Barr’s life has consisted of doing things that others haven’t. There’s the leg, of course. The bone cancer. The amputation at the age of fourteen. The year of chemotherapy that’s reflected in his eyes. The laser focus that makes him an incredible competitor, and no doubt, a brilliant nurse.

Don’t get me wrong, Mark Barr is a pleasure to chat with. He laughs easily and often, telling me stories of how his running leg occasionally falls off during a race. He smiles as he talks about face planting at Worlds, as his biggest competition ran by him. He tells me that the sweat made his prosthesis loose, and that as it slipped down, his toe caught on the ground and sent him sprawling. In spite of the fall, and having to reattach his running prosthesis, Mark still managed to run a 21:29 minute 5k. Good enough for fourth place on the day.

We ride bikes on the Picnic Loop of Memorial Park. Just cruising… Mark, on the custom painted Quintana Roo gifted to him by the USAT. He shows me his cycling setup and tells me that before Rio he’s going to see his prosthetist, Shane Wurdeman of the Hanger Clinic, who will shave down the bolts on his leg cup to make the whole thing more aerodynamic.

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“I need to average 22.5 mph to be competitive,” Mark says.

I keep thinking about that 22.5. If you’re reading this on the Bicycle World website you’re into bikes, so I don’t really need to explain how fast that is. And the amazing thing is that the bike is Mark’s worst event. If there is a weakness to be found, it’s there.

I ask Mark how much a running prosthesis costs, and he tells me that they come in anywhere from 10–20k. The bad news, they often break and crack. Even worse, insurance scoffs at paying for what they deem an unnecessary prothesis.

That’s where the Challenged Athletes Foundation comes in. For twenty years, they’ve offered global grants and help for people with disabilities. Mark talks at length about the foundation, how lucky he is to have a relationship with them and how proud he is to be a member of the CAF Elite Paratriathlon Team. It dawns on me that all the stress of race day is nothing. I’ve been a fool to worry about how my shoes are set up in transition. Even on my worst day of competition, my leg’s never fallen off.

We end our ride and chat on a bench at Memorial Park. The tri geek in me comes out and I ask silly questions about swim training, his coaches and workouts. Mark talks about how important it is to have coaches like Mark Sortino (Triathlon) and Greg Orphinades (Swim), who both understand disabled athletes.

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“Running is tough on the body,” he says. “I’ll get blisters on my stump if I run to much, and that’ll put me behind on training. Every workout has to be thought out. I spend a lot of time on the bike now.”

He tells me that most paratriathletes are going to Spain to earn points to qualify for the Olympics, but that he’s already maxed out his. The Spain trip will be a training exercise. He’ll practice racing at the highest level in a place he doesn’t know. In a bed that isn’t his...

The conversation ebbs and flows, but after an hour or so we part ways. Mark climbs into his truck and takes off, waving to me out the window, now hiding behind a baseball cap. He’s just another person on the road. I watch him take the right onto Memorial Park Road and disappear into the distance as I load up my bike and head out, proud that Mark Barr is wearing our Bicycle World kit. Happy that people like Mark exist in this world and inspired by him to be a better person.

*This interview took place on 5/5/16.

5/18/16 Update

Mark got 3rd in Spain, and emailed me that he was upset about his bike to run transition. He said that he needed to work on his running leg. Which in this case, actually means his "running leg". Having to stop and adjust the prosthesis during the run is still costing him valuable time, especially when racing against other athletes with two legs. He is happy for the experience and now focused on training for the Rio Olympic Paratriathlon in September.

When we originally talked, Mark was also battling with his insurance company to pay for his computerized walking leg (The prothesis he wears to work, and in everyday life). Here is what he told me:

"[The] computerized knee is imperative for me and most above the knee amputees to have because it allows me to do my job as a nurse, I can walk down stairs or ramps and have confidence that I will not fall. My insurance wanted to give me an outdated hydraulic knee that would not enable me to do my job."

Luckily, that has now been resolved, and due to a policy change Mark's new leg has been approved by insurance. Just another obstacle, in a very long list of obstacles, that Mark Barr has overcome.

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