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NEVER GIVE UP

Ironman Jason Lester turns his 'disability' into a winning athletic example
by: COURTESY OF Rick Kent, Jason Lester will attempt to complete five Ironman triathlons on five consecutive days on five different Hawaiian islands — an event nobody else has done — without the use of his paralyzed right arm.

For about 12 hours, triathlete Jason Lester puts his body through an extreme physical and mental test, and without the use of something fairly important in sports - a right arm.

Some people might look at him as disabled, but Lester sees 'a challenge' in having a paralyzed appendage. One should never feel sorry for Lester, because the sometimes Portland resident does not even come close to feeling sorry for himself.

'My motto is to 'Never Stop,' and I'm a firm believer in those words,' says Lester, who's training in Hawaii for an unheard of physical challenge May 5 to 9 - an event nobody else has done. Lester will attempt to complete five Ironman triathlons on five consecutive days on five different Hawaiian islands. It's called 'Epic 5,' and it would entail 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running each day, or totals of 12, 560 and 131.

No, Lester is not nuts. He's just extremely driven.

'It'd be hard for anybody to do this, but Jason has a rare quality to him,' says Dave Ciaverella, his coach. 'I don't have any doubts he's going to do it.'

Lester has lived with and trained under Ciavarella in Portland since 2007, and the 35-year-old has been well known nationally for some time. He recently won an ESPN 'ESPY' award for top disabled athlete for 2009, having completed an Ultraman Canada, two Ultraman Hawaii events and Ironman Hawaii world championship in a 13-month period. An Ultraman consists of two Ironman distances in three days - first day, six-mile swim and 90-mile bike; second day, 176-mile bike; third day, 52-mile run - each day under 12 hours.

For good measure, he also competed in some half-Ironmans.

'He's a machine when it comes to an ability to race,' adds Ciavarella, who's a neuroradiologist and trauma team member at Emanuel Hospital and a coach for the Ironheads Multisport Racing team. 'He's not super fast, but his ability to endure a work load is tremendous.'

Ciaverella has a theory about Lester and others like him: Adversity fuels performance and, when an athlete grows tired, he or she can draw on inspiration and motivation from past life experiences. Lester grew up without his mother in the picture, and then, in 1986 at age 12, he lost the use of his right arm. A woman ran a red light and struck Lester on his bike, and the youngster suffered 21 broken bones, a collapsed lung and a paralyzed arm.

Lester says he went through three months of hospital stay and six months rehabilitation, during which time his father passed away.

'I could have easily quit,' he says. 'A lot of things didn't make sense back then. But, I made a decision to go right, instead of left - I chose a path to live a healthier life and use my gifts and abilities to be an athlete.' From Arizona originally, Lester continued to play football and baseball and do track and field and cross country in his teenage years, and then set out to be the best triathlete he could be.

In triathlons, he straps his arm to his side for swimming, attaches the arm to his bike during bicycling and tucks the arm into his shorts while running.

'It's like how we wake up and tie our shoes and get out the door - it became natural,' he says. 'My strongest suit is discipline in my mind. We all have challenges, some are physical and more are mental.'

Inability to use his arm only comes into play while swimming, but Lester uses more of his legs to thrust himself through water and strokes with his left arm. 'Your body adapts to one limb,' he adds. 'In swimming, it's all upper body (work), swimmers rarely use power in their legs. I use my legs, probably double of normal athletes. When I get out of the water, it's like I've just run a marathon.'

It means Lester would be, theoretically, more tired when he exits the water and gets on the bike for a triathlon. Then, after a long bike ride, it's a long run. But, again, he has adapted. He's in sensational shape, obviously. Lester has also moved on from the use of a wet suit, which helps with buoyancy, and training with fins.

COURTESY OF Rick Kent

COURTESY OF RICK KENT • Jason Lester's motto is to 'Never Stop,' words that have inspired and challenged him to become the first disabled athlete to ever complete an Ultraman event.

Hard to continue

In 2008, he became the first disabled athlete to complete an Ultraman event. In December 2009, he completed his fourth Ultraman.

He and a friend have started 'Epic 5', hoping to make it an annual thing. Lester spends a lot of time in Hawaii, and sees the need for a sports performance center for kids on Kona (the 'Big Island'). Through his Never Stop Foundation and 'Epic 5,' Lester hopes to raise funds to build the center in 2012.

'Epic 5' will take place on Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and Kona. For logistical sake, he'll do the 26.2-mile run first, then the 112-mile bike and then the 2.4-mile swim. He'll have handlers on each island to assist him. He's allowing himself about 15 hours to complete each day.

'I started out doing triathlons and then Ironmans and I thought, 'What's next?'' he says. 'I started doing Ultramans, and then I thought, 'There has to be something more to challenge.''

He's confident about 'Epic 5.'

'I don't have a fear of doing it,' says Lester, who's a sponsored athlete. 'I have no doubt it can be accomplished.

'I've been training my entire life. I did my first biathlon at age 16. I've done more than 60 biathlons/triathlons/Ironmans, and it's literally taken my body this long to grow into what I do. Doing 'Epic 5' makes perfect sense for me. I've continued to evolve.'

Lester also has a book coming out in late August, published by HarperCollins called 'Running on Faith.' He'll also release a DVD titled 'A Painted Race.'

His message to others?

'It's easy to quit, hard to continue,' Lester says. 'Keep your eyes on the finish line, and the road is much more beautiful.'