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At 26 years old, Hector Picard lost both of his arms in a work-related incident. But at 50 years old, the now triathlete will compete in the Ironman World Championship to support the Broward Children’s Center.
Abead of sweat travels from Hector Picard’s hairline to the tip of his nose as he leans over a stationary bike at the DogHouse Cycling Multisport Training Center in Boca Raton one July morning. He’s prepping for his second attempt at the Ironman World Championship held this October. The reason he didn’t finish last year is the same reason Picard can’t quickly pick up one hand and swat away the salty droplet making way to his nostrils. He is a bilateral amputee.
Picard’s workout is mapped out on the TV screen ahead of him in a graph that resembles a heart monitor. The inclines represent moments when Picard will push past his “threshold power,” trainer Rick Slifkin explains. The dips represent resting periods, when Picard can sit back and dry his face.
During the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, there won’t be any breaks. “That is the pinnacle of triathlons—the ultimate,” Picard says. “And to be given a second chance to participate in it, it’s a blessing.”
Last year, Picard didn’t make it past the biking portion. He was overheated with second-degree burns on his back, considering his shirt was riding up, and he was unable to pull it back down. The forfeit didn’t discourage Picard. Instead, it motivated him—to return with better equipment; to return in better shape than the 50-year-old has ever been; to return with a better initiative.
Picard’s goal this year is to raise $50,000 for the Broward Children’s Center. During the 25 triathlons he will have completed by the end of 2016 with Novation Settlement Solutions as his sponsor, Picard wears a picture of a child from the Center, and after the event, he awards him or her with the metal. “It adds more value to the races,” Picard says. “It is not about the metal for me, it’s about their metal.”
Unlike most of the children he competes for, Picard wasn’t born with a disability. The Miami native was 26 years old and working as an apprentice to an electrician when he made contact with a substation transformer. “I got hit with 13,000 volts of electricity, twice,” he says. “… I went down on fire, don’t remember any of it.”
Thirty days later, Picard woke up from a coma at a hospital in Gainesville, Florida, to discover his entire right arm and half of his left had been amputated. Forty percent of his body was covered in second- to third-degree burns.
“I had a 1-year-old daughter,” Picard says. “… She inspired me. I just kept pushing forward, working hard to be independent, to feed myself, to dress myself, all the hygiene, everything—I wanted to learn how to do it on my own.”
Picard didn’t compete in his first triathlon until close to two decades later in 2009—when he was coping with a divorce.
“My first wife after almost 20 years of marriage decided to have an affair …” Picard says. “She figured that I had no choice because nobody would go for me because of my situation. So, I took that as a challenge.”
He set up a Match.com profile, and after many failed attempts (“As soon as I’d start communicating and mention I was missing both arms, the conversation would stop,” he says.), one woman agreed to meet him.
“She decided to go on that first date with me. I tell her it’s the best decision she ever made, because we hit it off and almost a year later, we ended up getting married,” Picard says. The couple celebrated six years of marriage in August.
During this time, Picard was also frequenting the gym when a couple asked if he’d ever competed in a triathlon. “I told them I wasn’t a cyclist, I wasn’t a swimmer and I hated running, but sure, I’ll give it a shot,” he says.
He built himself a bike without handlebars, and taught himself to swim on his back using just his legs. The goal was simply to finish his first triathlon, held on the Fourth of July at Tradewinds Park in Coconut Creek. And when he did, the new goal became to get better.
Picard has since competed in more than 135 triathlons, become a motivational speaker and started the Don’t Stop Living Foundation. “That’s the way I approach life—I live it to the fullest. I don’t stop living,” he says. “I had every excuse to do so, and I chose not to.”
This year’s Ironman World Championship will draw more than 2,000 athletes to Kona, Hawaii for a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile marathon. Picard will be among this elite group of athletes.
He slows the rotation of his pedals when he reaches the completion of his training session at DogHouse about three months before the competition, which will take place on Oct. 8. His trainer, Slifkin, claps his hands.
“I think you’re stronger, Hector,” Slifkin says. “We may need to do another power test.”
“Yeah, I’m all for it,” Picard responds.