A few years ago, Evelyn Rodriguez couldn’t imagine competing in a triathlon.
On Sunday, though, she’ll be one of nearly 5,000 athletes racing around Manhattan — literally — in the 18th annual 2XU New York City Triathlon. She will participate as a member of the Tri Achilles Team, which is made up of adults with disabilities.
For Rodriguez, who was born without part of her left arm, it will be her third NYC Tri as a member of a relay tandem, and she will be handling the 10K run and 40K bike race portions of the event, while her teammate tackles the 1,500-meter swim in the Hudson River.
“I still can’t believe I’m doing this,” Rodriguez, 44, told amNewYork. “I grew up in the Bronx, and it was a different time. At school, they wouldn’t let me participate in gym, even though I wanted to and knew I could do it, and I got bullied a lot because of my arm. After that, I developed a negative self-image that stayed with me into adulthood.”
That all began to change when Rodriguez, who recently became a grandmother, discovered sports. She joined a support group for adults with disabilities six years ago and through that organization met a number of people who were racing in triathlons with Tri Achilles.
“I laugh about it now, but at the time I didn’t even know what a triathlon was, and I didn’t know how to swim or ride a bike,” she said.
Thanks to a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, she was able to purchase a road-racing bike and, with practice, she learned to ride it while wearing a prosthetic arm specially designed for the task. She also learned to swim, training at Rye Beach in Westchester County.
Now, she regularly trains in Central Park and Hudson River Park with her Tri Achilles teammates and others she’s met through Challenged Athletes. She’ll also be racing in the latter organization’s women’s triathlon next week.
“Racing in these events has helped me feel better about myself and become a better person,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Parkchester and works as an executive assistant at Columbia University. “Before there were a lot of things I was afraid to do, because of my arm. I couldn’t imagine going swimming, because I was self-conscious. Riding a bike was unheard of. Now, I’m so much more confident. Doing this has changed my life.”