Try climbing a steep hill on your bike if a storm is coming your way.
Sometimes you pedal and pedal but feel like you’re not making any progress.
Allysa Seely won the Paralympic gold medal in Rio in 2016, is a three-time world champion in triathlon and has won six medals at the world championships.
But Seely, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, recently posted a telling insight on Twitter: “If one sentence could explain my life, it would be ‘uphill and into the wind’.”
Seely, now 32, faced her first disastrous health challenge in 2008, shortly after completing her first triathlon as a college athlete at Arizona State University.
She suffered from strange symptoms such as headache, tingling in the limbs, partial paralysis, chronic pain, and seizures. She later learned that she had a so-called Chiari II malformation, basilar vagination and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Seely eventually had to have her left leg amputated below the knee.
Her medical team doubted she could ever compete in triathlon again, but Seely proved otherwise and became a star paratriathlete.
Allysa Seely: fully vaccinated and trained for Tokyo
Fast forward to 2020.
Allysa Seely trained hard and was on track to defend her gold medal in the 2016 Tokyo Paralympics. Then the worst pandemic in a century hit. Of course, everyone had the feeling of cycling uphill and against the wind. But in addition to the pandemic and uncertainty about the Tokyo Games, Seely faced a number of new health problems.
For starters, her illness puts her at great risk if she catches COVID-19. So she had to be extremely careful. She was quarantined in Colorado Springs with her two dogs and was doing well until about July 2020 when she felt terrible and had to be hospitalized. After she was released, she was still not doing well and could barely walk a quarter mile. At that time she was seeing specialists at the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Her medical team found a blood clot in her heart and endocarditis, a life-threatening infection of the lining of the heart.
As Seely told Team USA, she had an infrequent reaction to antibiotics, which raised fears that her immune system would attack her heart. Her doctors had to stop taking antibiotics and, remarkably, she recovered.
“It was probably the sickest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, which means something because I’ve had life-threatening experiences several times,” Seely told Team USA.
After four months in the hospital, Seely finally stabilized and began to recover.
Another major turning point came when she was able to get her COVID-19 vaccines. She was thrilled to have her first dose in Texas and her second in Colorado.
Now she is on the home stretch of her training for the Paralympic Games in Tokyo. After a year-long delay, the Games are scheduled to take place from August 24th to September 5th (the Olympic Games begin on July 23rd and last until August 8th).
Seely encourages everyone to lead a healthy life and train for their goals as she does.
UCHealth works with the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to promote healthy lifestyles and promote Olympic and Paralympic athletes like Seely.
Seely believes this year’s games could have a deeper impact than ever before.
â€œThe Games have always been important in bringing the world together through peace and sport. At that point we couldn’t do anything more than get together, â€said Seely.
She hopes this year’s Games will serve as the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
“Hopefully they will go off as safely as we expect. Hopefully we can celebrate the endurance of the athletes and the world, â€said Seely.
It rarely happens that every single country and person around the world faced the same challenge: a global pandemic.
“Hopefully this brings everyone together and serves as the beginning to the end,” said Seely.
Learn from a Paralympian: Set a Goal. Be proactive. Make a plan.
For Allysa Seely, sticking to a routine has helped her recover from her latest health challenges.
Her advice to athletes and ordinary people looking to get fit is to set goals, be proactive, and have a plan.
For example, Seely has a mantra that she repeats to herself: “This is what gold is made of.”
When she struggles in the middle of training and would like to give up, she remembers her very specific goal.
“I tell myself that the work I put in now – this pain and suffering – will help me achieve my dreams.”
Some days, motivation alone is not enough.
She also takes up her other guiding principles: “Discipline and dedication”.
“There are definitely some very tough days and days when it would have been so much easier to give up and give in,” said Seely. “The motivation will naturally grow and decrease.”
The desire to win gold in Tokyo drives them, but on some days this goal alone is not enough.
Seely relies on her team: from trainers to physiotherapists to sports psychologists, teammates, friends and family.
â€œI am so much more than just an athlete. This support system has been enormous over the past 18 months, â€said Seely.
Routines are the key to Allysa Seely’s success
To stay on track, Allysa Seely adheres to the same training regimen day in and day out.
Regardless of holidays, travel plans, or even pandemics, she goes to bed and wakes up at the same time every day.
Seely gets up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. and goes for a walk with her two dogs or play with balls. Her older dog is an 11 year old chocolate lab named Bentley. Her service dog is a 6 year old golden retriever named Mowgli.
Seely’s first workout consists of a 90-minute swim, followed by a bike ride or run, which can last anywhere from one to three hours.
One of the reasons Seely loves triathlon is variety. She fell in love with running in second grade, then ran throughout high school and early in college. When she got bored with running, she also discovered the joys of cycling and swimming.
â€œI’ve always been active and sporty. I grew up dancing, running, playing soccer, gymnastics and karate, â€said Seely.
Nowadays, whenever she struggles in one of her sports, she can always switch to one of the other two sports and train harder.
â€œYou won’t feel any every day. But you will feel someone else, â€said Seely.
The toughest of their three sports is arguably cycling.
â€œI have a love-hate relationship with my bike,â€ said Seely.
Along with the diversity, Seely is an advocate of the nap. She works in peace every day when she can.
“Training is so important, but so is recovery,” said Seely.
In the afternoon Seely does another run or ride, then does strength training and physiotherapy or massage therapy.
In her free time she loves doing handicrafts, baking, hanging out with the dogs and looking after her garden, a new passion she discovered during the pandemic.
Seely also crochets cuddly toys, which she donates to children who cope with long-term illnesses, as well as to groups that support foster children.
â€œI want you to have something of your own that comforts you, no matter where you are,â€ said Seely.
She also takes on assignments to make bespoke creations to aid her education.
In the evenings, Seely maintains her social media channels and makes phone calls. At 8:30 p.m. she begins to relax and goes to bed early.
Seely’s most important advice to children and younger athletes is to surround yourself with supportive people and to be fearless.
â€œExperience everything you can. Don’t specialize or concentrate on one sport too early, â€said Seely. “When you do different sports, you learn different things.”
With a view to Tokyo, Seely is incredibly grateful to her doctors, coaches and supporters. She is equally grateful to those who cared for people with COVID-19 and the researchers.
“I am very grateful to all health care providers and scientists who have worked tirelessly to get a vaccine so we can end this pandemic,” said Seely.
â€œCOVID-19 was very challenging. My doctors told me early on that if I got the virus, I would be at very high risk. That means that I spend a lot of time alone at home, â€said Seely. “In every need you learn who will stay in your circle.”
Now that she is fully vaccinated, Seely continues to take care to protect herself and others with weakened immune systems.
She can’t wait to continue to represent Team USA and speak openly about her health challenges and her trip to Tokyo.
â€œIt is incredible to have the opportunity to represent my country,â€ said Seely. “It has given me a voice to raise my voice and encourage others to fight for their dreams and continue to focus on health and physical and mental well-being.”