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.