“The coolest thing for me about participating and seeing all these people with different disabilities it’s just like how amazing each person's story is to get them to be competing at this elite level, given what they likely had to go through, whether it was limb loss. For me, my limb loss was congenital, so I was born without the leg. But other people have traumatic limb loss, they are wounded warriors. So, just like the fact that given a disability you're at a bit of a disadvantage when you go to participate in sport because maybe you need adaptive equipment, or maybe you need special training or supervision. And so to see people competing at the highest level of the sport, it's just remarkable.” This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you're in the gym, on the mats, on the road or in the pool, we protect your skin so you're more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go Solpri.com. JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I'm your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a Certified Personal Trainer. But that's just the start of it. He's also a PhD student in rehabilitation sciences, and he participated in Paralympic Swim Trials. Welcome to the show, Travis Pollen. TRAVIS: Thanks for having me on, Jesse. JESSE: So, Travis-- Before we got going, Travis and I, we've been talking probably for about 15 minutes now and I'm like, all right, we need to stop so we can actually get going with the real thing. So, Travis, back me up and everybody a little bit. We were talking about your-- so you have a background in swimming and you do the Paralympic trials kind of, I guess let's back up a second, and re-explain what we were just talking about. We'll catch everybody up and continue with our conversation. TRAVIS: Sure. So, I tried out for the Paralympics in 2012 in swimming. And I was talking about a little bit how the classification system works in swimming, which I know best, but there are classes in all various Paralympic sports and how the participants are selected to go on to compete in the Paralympics, and how that sort of compares to the Olympic Games. And I was just basically, the coolest thing for me about participating and seeing all these people with different disabilities it’s just like how amazing each person's story is to get them to be competing at this elite level, given what they likely had to go through, whether it was limb loss. For me, my limb loss was congenital, so I was born without the leg. But other people have traumatic limb loss, they are wounded warriors. So, just like the fact that given a disability you're at a bit of a disadvantage when you go to participate in sport because maybe you need adaptive equipment, or maybe you need special training or supervision. And so to see people competing at the highest level of the sport, it's just remarkable. JESSE: Yeah. So, I was telling Travis about my coach who coaches a Paralympic athlete who was in the Olympics this last time, Shawn Morelli. She's a cyclist. And if you want to know more about Shawn, you can go back to Episode One where I talked to my coach and we talked a little bit about Shawn there, and kind of her whole story. But yeah, she's a wounded warrior and kind of came to cycling after being honorably discharged from the military, and went on to, spoiler alert won a gold medal in Rio. But yeah, her story was really, really great. So, it's like, people come to the Paralympics from, I’ll say all different walks of life, but all different kinds of scenarios. So, it's like everybody has their own story and things to overcome. And I think Travis, that’s what you were saying, you're just like-- In Shawn's case, she isn't physically disabled, but she does have some kind of mental condition and I just don't recall what my coach had mentioned. But she has to deal with it as you mentioned leaves people more apt to be sedentary because there are more hurdles to overcome. Think about the average American who's overweight and there's nothing technically wrong with most of them. Whereas, okay, now, you don't have a limb. There's extra equipment you need and I don't mean this in a-- I mean this in an empathetic way, but I know that going from running which is basically put some shoes on and head out the door. To triathlon, which is like gather all your shit, you have a bike and you have all this equipment, you've gotta-- It's such a pain. It's a super pain. So, I can only imagine like having to have equipment no matter what ?? 05:13> be active. It's a mental hurdle. TRAVIS: Yeah. Or even like-- So, I started rock climbing a few years ago, and I just did my first adaptive competition a couple of weeks ago. And that's another one where personally I'm able to just hop on the wall. Actually, I don't even use my prosthesis for it. I just feel more comfortable without it. Of course, you need rock climbing shoes or shoe in my case for that. But other people who I was competing against, they don't take ground falls. So, it was a bouldering competition. So, there were, with bouldering there are no ropes and the maximum height is maybe 14 feet. But for some of these people who are participating, they aren't able to tolerate jumping off of the wall. You can climb down if you're able to, but you don't always plan when you're going to fall. So, anyway, they-- for each of the routes, you could opt to boulder as normal without a harness or they had ropes available. But the point is, if you don't take ground falls, then you always need someone to ?? 06:21> you. And so now, which is always true in top-rope climbing, you always need a second person, which is why I prefer bouldering because I can just get up and go. But that's a good instance where somebody who is missing a leg but can't jump off the wall. Now, they can't just get up and go rock climbing because they need somebody to go with them. Which is fine. You know, it's a collaborative and community-based sport. But it's not as simple as I just want to go out for a run, I just need to lace up my shoes and go. There are other hurdles, equipment-wise and just people-wise that ?? 07:05>. JESSE: Right. I think that's something that-- I know I certainly take that for granted sometimes. I mean, we are as humans, I believe we're social creatures, though I'm fairly introverted and independent. So, I spent a lot of time by myself and doing my own thing. And that's kind of what I want to do. But I know that in that situation, especially, it forces you to have somebody else to do the thing you want to do. I mean, in a more mundane scenario you think about, so I've been able to post-collegiately continue to compete and do my thing because it's an individual effort. But you know, the guys who play football or play soccer or any of the team sports, no longer have a team to do your thing. TRAVIS: Yeah, I think that's really like a huge hurdle to overcome after let's say you played in college. After you graduate college, maybe you can find a rec soccer league to play in, or I don't know what other sports. I'm sure they're playing basketball but they're not gonna find the rec football league, at least not contact might find a flag and maybe that's enough. But I often think-- I think that's why former athletes often will flock to CrossFit because it's like an example of, okay, we have that community element, we have the competitive element because we're racing the clock. And that is missing from a lot of people's lives once they leave the system that made it so easy to engage in their physical activity with their community. JESSE: Yeah. And to me too, it’s a sense of identity. It's not just, it's like, this is who I am. And it could be you know, say I-- like I have a friend who, he played soccer in college and he eventually transitioned to triathlon. But he played, I think he played USL and he wanted to make it to MLS and he just didn't quite make it. And so he had to do this identity transition from soccer player to triathlete. And I know he had trouble with that plus there's like physical adaptations and he goes from this very team activity to hours and hours and hours of very intense activity by yourself in isolation. So, not only are you dealing with the physical changes, you're dealing with the mental changes and that all comes together both for the average athlete and then for anybody that's dependent on somebody else to go do their thing. TRAVIS: Yeah. And it's awesome that he found triathlon because a lot of people will, I guess not-- just not see that as an option. And frankly, it’s not a great option because it is individual and if you really do love that team aspect then you're not going to have that right? JESSE: Yeah. TRAVIS: I remember when I was doing my master's degree, a friend of mine, his name is Dan Feeney, he was like a national level triathlete. But he had come from mostly a track background or cross country. And at the university, the team had been ?? 10:24>. And so he was having to do a lot of his training on his own now. And so very infrequently, he would ask me to come and swim with him. I knew that when he was asking me to it was because he was really desperate for just somebody to go through, not that I could keep up with him by any stretch of the imagination. But just for somebody to go through a couple hours of training with him, given that he was training 20 hours a week on his own in the winter, sometimes in the cold ?? 10:55> of course swimming inside. But the individual aspect of that I really saw that in him, like just the amount of stick to it as it takes relative to like, yeah, swimming is an individual sport, but the rest of the team is there. If they're working hard, I'm gonna work hard too. And that's just a different dynamic than when you are on a team, like a football team, soccer team basketball team, whatever. JESSE: Yeah. The only solace we kind of had and this is where I met Kevin is we were kind of part of this development pipeline trying to get college athletes and turn them into pro triathletes. I kind of snuck my way in. I always say I'm very fortunate to have been there since I didn't really make the selection. There's qualifying standards basically to get the free coaching like 40 full-time coaching. I kinda had part-time coaching from Barb Lindquist who is a former pro and Stanford All American swimmer and lots of great things. She was in charge of this program at the time. So, we got together in nationals and a couple other like high profile races during the year like amateur races. And that definitely helped the sense of like community and team because it's like we're all here. And we can kind of talk during the year like Todd Buckingham, who I’ve had him on the show twice, Episode Three and 29. He's from that group. And so like, Todd lives in Michigan, Kevin lives in Cleveland, like all across the US, so none of us-- Well, I guess one girl actually does live here in Kansas City with me. But for the most part, we're all spread out, but we can still have some semblance of team. And then I think we all, at least I felt this way, going to these high profile events, and then we would do camps or clinics before and after the race with Barb. And it was definitely like, back in college like this intense training. We're all together. It's like you immediately click because you're all doing the same thing. And if by chance anybody is a collegiate athlete that wants to turn pro, that group is now run by Olympic triathlete, Joe Malloy. Barb has moved on. But Google it, Joe's great too. But yeah, it's definitely something to miss where you don't have those people anymore. TRAVIS: Yeah. And you can foster those communities online to keep up with people and commiserate, share training tips. But of course, it's not the same as going out each day in training with training partners. JESSE: Yeah. So, in your case, I have no-- so just treat me like I'm an idiot. I have no concept of like, shit like your speed in the pool versus I'll say a non-Paralympic athlete. Are you training at the same speed? Are you just swimming out the regular swim team and then you go to a different trial or? TRAVIS: Yeah. This is something that I get asked a lot. Like for a little while I was the disability or diversity chairperson for Mid Atlantic Swimming. And so I would get parents emailing me like, how I have a kid with disability, what are the resources for them? And so I can first share my experience which was that I started swimming my sophomore year of high school, so I actually got kind of a late start, competitively. I swam in my neighbor's pool since I was a little kid. But when I started, I was very slow like anybody who's never swam laps before for a couple hours at a time. But over the period of a high school season, I became somewhat competitive with my able-bodied teammates. And by my third season, I was, I wouldn't say I was like, very-- Well, I was the second, I think the second or third fastest backstroker on the team. So, I wasn't breaking school records but I was competitive in meets and I was scoring points. When I got to college, I swam division three. And so I didn't score any points in college meets. I was slower than the competition. But I was-- my speed was akin to the fastest females on the team, or on the women's team. So, like my hundred freestyle was competitive with the top women's hundred freestyle. That was my best event, 50 and 100 free. So, from that standpoint, I was able to keep up in practice with the regular team. I was not the slowest person, but I wasn't close to the fastest person either. When we would use a pool buoy and paddles, I was the fastest person because I wasn't kicking anyway and I was super strong in my upper body. So, that's sort of where I-- The men and women in my college team would all train together because we had a 10 lane pool. So, I was able to find people who I could, like work off of and try to race in the pool. And maybe it was a male swimmer, maybe it was a female swimmer. But I know for other adaptive athletes, let's say you-- I don't know. My disability classification is class nine out of 10. So, the classification 10 would be like, minor weakness in one limb, maybe you're missing a hand or maybe have a clubfoot. So, I'm one tear down. There were certainly adaptive swimmers who I saw at Paralympic trials who were not swimming. Like if the best swimmers on my college team are here and I was here, then people you know, maybe you're missing both arms and your stroke is a dolphin kick, that's going to be that might necessitate that you're not doing 100 repeats on the 120 or 130, you're just not. You don't have the limb power for that. Right? So, for kids who are like, they're either one, their ability isn't there yet to swim with the same, the people who are their age who are not disabled. Then they have to find other resources, right. Like maybe a team with a lot of lane space can afford to give a lane to somebody like that. But also now they're needing like a special training program. A coach who's training that lane separately from everybody else. So, it's a challenge. And I think the best-case scenario is that you can get that person onto, like in an environment where there are other people their age or close to their age we're training even if they're doing something slightly different. But it's not always practical in a six-lane pool with, I don't know, 40 other people. JESSE: Yeah, I was like, 30, 40. TRAVIS: Yes, to accommodate this person who's not even on the same-- just in a different part of their training and physical development than everybody else. So, when parents would email me I would try to just explain that and make those suggestions. I think there’s often you know, parents are looking for coaches with experience working with adaptive athletes and that's great, but I think most coaches can probably figure it out. You have to get experience to have experience, right? So, if the coach is willing to work with somebody like that then awesome just, it is tough when the lane space and resources aren't available. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 46 - Travis Pollen - SEE OPPORTUNITY NOT OBSTACLES - Part 1 of 3
“The coolest thing for me about participating and seeing all these people with different disabilities it’s just like how amazing each person's story is to get them to be competing at this elite level, given what they likely had to go through, whether it was limb loss.