Orlando, Florida resident Rajesh Durbal recently finished the Ford Ironman World Championships in 14:19:12, a performance that is quite amazing for a triple amputee. We noticed Rajesh in Kona because of his great attitude and finally had a chance to talk with him.
Slowtwitch: Rajesh, thank you very much for the chat.
Rajesh: It’s a pleasure Herbert, anything for you.
ST: So Kona is now in the books, what is next in terms of challenges?
Rajesh: Next will be to develop some of my programs for Live Free such as IT training and job placement, hosting a para-triathlon camp, and athletic event sponsoring with the local community of Orlando. In terms of racing for me, I plan on pursuing Ironman St. George in 2011, and hopefully a Kona repeat if Ironman invites me back. I love off road racing so I’m planning a handful of adventure races, along with bike rides, and Olympic triathlons.
ST: Whenever I saw you in Kona you had a huge smile on your face. Is that in general your demeanor?
Rajesh: Yes, I smile just because I love life. It’s taken me a while to accept and love the life that I have, so now that I’ve become at peace with myself, I can’t help to smile all the time.
ST: How tough was it to become at peace with yourself?
Rajesh: Very tough, it took until I was 27 years old, after searching in all the wrong places to find myself. I made lots of mistakes, shed a lot of tears, and was crippled by many fears. Growing up as a kid, I was the blund of everyone's jokes, teased, ridiculed, and bullied throughout my childhood. I carried that with me for a very long time, slowly all of that started to change as I read the Bible and found out how beautiful God sees me. Then the healing process started, slowly all the internal struggles and beating myself up for everything and anything started to slowly change.
ST: Talk about your race day.
Rajesh: Race morning, I woke up totally calm. I thanked God for bringing me safely through this day, and that no matter what happened - this day was his. I then proceeded to head to transition where I scoped the swim entrance and exit to make sure my handlers knew what to do. After that I set up my bike, and visually walked everything in my head of what was to happen. I had spent hundreds of hours, preparing for this one day, so setting up and working everything out was routine.
After I had everything set, I took some quiet time to meditate away from everyone. I watched the pros start, and I kept on thinking, “wow I’m at the Ironman World Championships! All the sacrifices, sweat and tears I put in for 7 months was done; I am ready for anything, now it’s time to enjoy it.”
I staged up for the swim in the mid front pack, and when the cannon went off, I instantly got shoved, pushed and swum into the entire time. I was constantly fighting and swimming to hold the line, powering through with every stroke, to fight people off me. I love it when I’m in a situation like that, where I have to dig deep inside myself.
Transition into the bike, I felt great, the first 10 miles I attacked of the bike then I scaled back, once I hit the Queen K I knew I needed to save the legs and energy for the winds, and hills. The bike ride was one of the hardest courses that I rode. The climb to Hawi, I left a piece of myself there. Controlling my bike was very challenging and couple of times I almost fell of, trying to hold on with one hand, but I embraced that challenge and actually taught myself to laugh at it and stay focused powering through.
ST: You swam the 2.4 miles in 1:17:54 and that is pretty much an unbelievable awesome effort. Was that roughly the time you expected to swim?
Rajesh: No, not at all. All my open-water training swims were much slower than that. My usually pace is close to 1:35.
ST: Did you get any reactions from the folks who swam near you or came out of the water after you?
Rajesh: Yes lots, there were people in the water battling me for the best swim line, and draft. Then I would catch some open water and pass them, and then they would catch up to me and rub me a little, and I would exchange the favor. It’s all fun and I don’t mind that competitiveness, it just made me swim harder.
ST: What about the run, how did that go?
Rajesh: The run in Kona, was difficult. Elevation changes are exceptionally challenging because I don't have the muscles to control my stride, especially on the descent. For me it's all core strength to control myself, so it's doing a plank while running. Besides the descents and elevation changes, the run, I felt great, I ran it all in zone 2 of my HR, and stuck to my nutrition plan.
ST: For those people who don't know you, you were born with a congenital deformity of both your lower legs and the right arm, and basically have lived as triple amputee from an early age. Is that a correct description?
Rajesh: Yes, they fused two bones in my legs so that at age one I could get fitted with my first prosthetics, instead of living life in a wheel chair.
ST: How did you first stumble upon triathlon?
Rajesh: I was looking for a challenge, something that I thought I could never do. So I started to pray about it, and then decided a triathlon would be something that would test my abilities trying to master all three disciplines at the same time. So I looked for a sprint triathlon and with 3 months of training on my own I did my first sprint in June 2009.
ST: Are you kidding us? You first sprint triathlon was June of 2009?
Rajesh: Yes, pretty amazing how far I came in such a short period of time. I still can't believe it myself. I trained my butt off, and got the right mix of people to help make it all happen. I never gave up, and always focused on how to get myself where I needed to be. I didn't listen to everyone's voice telling how and what I should be doing. I only listened to one voice, God. I stayed attentive and constantly evaluated my surroundings, friends, and attitude, and had to make hard decisions in order to progress forward, holding myself accountable for any setbacks. In the end, it all came together, for the goodness of the larger purpose, to live free.
ST: When did you first have the Ironman Hawaii triathlon on your mind?
Rajesh: In February of 2010. I had just finish running my first half marathon in Gasperella, and everything just came together. I knew I had the right team to help me pull off Ironman Hawaii.
ST: Of the 3 disciplines, which one do you enjoy the best and why?
Rajesh: I wish I could say I enjoy one better than the other. I’ve worked so hard to advance and learn to love all three sports. I would say I’m most in love with running. I love running because it’s the hardest for me. With everything in life, I’ve realized that you learn the most about yourself when it’s hard. I develop the skills and qualities to be a leader, develop my character, and commitment, which helps me to be a better person.
ST: What kind of bike did you ride in Kona and how was it set up?
Rajesh: I rode a Felt B2-R courtesy of Locomotion Bikes in Orlando. The bike is set up pretty traditional, with the exception of the right side heavily modified, so I could ride safer. First I had the front and rear brakes all routed with a brake splitter to the left side brake level to control. Then I had the bar end shifters reversed, so the left side controller the rear and the right controlled the front derailleur. Then I had the right side aero pad extended with an additional aero pad, so I would have more surface area for my right arm, which put me in a more natural aero position. Lastly, I had one of Locomotion’s master tech’s fabricate the cup shape mold out of an old license plate - needed to mount in front of the aero pad to prevent me from sliding around on the aero pad, especially when I took my left hand off the handle bars to grab bottles. This also served as a place I could put my right arm when I would be climbing hills.
ST: Are you involved with the Challenged Athletes Foundation?
Rajesh: I’m currently not directly involved with CAF. I do however support their purpose and advocate for them, especially for people that are less fortunate and need the resources to stay active and in the game. For 2011, I am working to see how I can better partner with them, and their mission. It also gives me more of a reason to see some of the amputees that I grew up with.
ST: Do you need to reach out to any folks who helped you along your way to get to Kona?
Rajesh : Yes, my coach Consula Lively and the entire triathlon team and their families that I trained with, my supporting family in NY, plus the Sponsors: Live Free Foundation, Procare Prosthetic, Getting 2 Tri Foundation, Scott Rigsby foundation, Freedom Innovations, Pecor, YMCA of Central Florida, Suunto, Locomotion Bikes, Mix 1 Nutrition, Zoot Sports, GU Energy.
ST: Tell us about your mantra and what other people might take away from it.
Rajesh: “LIVE FREE” “Live Amazingly” That came about, crying in pain while running in the rain, on my walking legs training up for my first Olympic triathlon last year. I was faced with many obstacles that tried to hold me down, and no one around to help me and all I had was my faith and prayer. I kept on praying wanting to be free from the chains that hold me down – small and large. I wanted to be free, and then Live Free was born.
Live Free, doesn’t mean you have to be physically challenge. It’s for everyone. Everyone can relate to a struggle they are dealing with in their life.
Live Amazingly, came from living life with purpose - Striving to live an Amazing life everyday. Amazing is not the mountain tops we look for. Amazing is seeing beauty and peace with simple things in life, knowing your purpose here is larger than a mountain top.
ST: I must admit, I was complaining in Kona to someone about my (then) pending meniscus operation when I saw you running by, and I immediately felt bad about whining about such a trivial subject. Do you think this happens more often to other folks when they encounter you?
Rajesh: Yes, I get that response a lot. Or I get the other response of "there are no more excuses."
A lot of people don’t know, I actually have congenital deformed knees, which means I’m missing some ligaments/stabilizers and 8 years ago I had knee surgery on my meniscus. So I can relate to my share of injuries and setbacks. But it’s always amusing when people tell me about their setbacks, I jokingly tell them to man up.
ST: Well you man up for sure. Are there any other sports do you do?
Rajesh: I love playing handball, snowboarding, and mountain biking, not sure if this a sport, but I love white water rafting, sledging, and canoeing.
ST: Can you share with us some of your food likes and dislikes?
Rajesh: I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, so love my West Indian food. It’s all about spicy and flavorful. My favorite West Indian dish is smoke salt fish with rice and dhale, and curry duck.
What I don’t like are fried foods. I rarely eat anything fried.
ST: What music do you like?
Rajesh: On my play list it’s mostly Christian music that I listen to that 99% of the time. When I’m ready to tear it up on the dance floor, it’s Calypso, Soca, Reggae, and Cumbia.
ST: What was the last book you read?
Rajesh: Purpose Driven Life.
ST: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Rajesh: Building the Live Free Brand and its programs. I wish I could elaborate more, but most of the ideas and concepts are still in the development stage. I also definitely would be racing and competing in triathlon. I love the sport and what it gives back to me, and others.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Rajesh: Greater is he that is in me, than he that is in the world. 1 John 4:4