MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Ironman race is an athletic feat of mythic proportions. It consists of a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon (26.2 miles).
Few people on earth are capable of completing it. On Saturday, a young Minnesota man is in Florida to do something nobody like him has ever done before: Complete that infamous Ironman race even though he’s paralyzed from the chest down.
Joe Stone became disabled after an accident in the mountains of Montana three years ago and never let it slow him down. Saturday, he races. Stone said they’re almost ready to go.
“We are getting ready for Ironman Florida, which is a big task for anybody but I think it’s a bigger task for me just because I’m a quadriplegic,” he said.
The Apple Valley native is an adrenaline junkie who loves extreme sports. Several years ago before the accident, he moved out to Montana and started trying something new.
“He was 25, had moved out to Missoula about a year earlier, from here, him and his girlfriend and just living the dream, you know,” said Ron Stone, his father. “And he had been a skydiver when he lived in Minnesota but when he got out there he got involved in speedflying.”
Speedflying is a lot like hang gliding, flying close to the ground with a small parachute. On Joe’s fifth jump, something went wrong. The parachute didn’t deploy correctly, and he fell 250 feet onto his back. Ron, Joe’s mom and two sisters made the frantic trip from Minnesota to Montana and then to the hospital.
“Walking in that room and seeing your kid hooked up to seemingly every medical device there was, was… I can’t even explain how that makes you feel,” said Ron Stone.
Joe was in a coma for a month. Now, he’s an incomplete c-7 quadriplegic. No feeling from the upper chest down. He has full function in his right arm and hand. He can open his left hand but can’t close it for grip. His biceps, triceps and shoulders all work.
At the time of the accident, Ron said Joe grieved for what he lost for about a week. Then he saw the documentary “Murderball,” and decided physical limitations were just a new challenge. Within a year, he completed a 100-mile hand-pedal bike ride and hasn’t stopped since.
“I think Joe just kind of realized there was a place for him to be able to provide motivation who maybe don’t have the same kind of drive after an accident, and so he just set his mind on the next big thing I want to do is an Ironman,” Ron said.
And if he pulls this off, he does something no one else has ever done.
So how does a quadriplegic run, bike and swim? For swimming he’s got a floating suit that turns him into a merman. He pulls himself with his arms doing the freestyle stroke. He just did a practice run in the ocean the other day. Ron said swimming in the ocean was a big worry for the family, but the first trials went fine.
How Does A Quadripleic Swim?
How Does A Quadriplegic Bike?
How Does a Quadriplegic Run?
Joe uses a special bike to run, which gives him an advantage over people using their legs. But for the biking portion, he still powers the bike with his arms, and that’s where he has the biggest disadvantage.
“Mostly my main focus is on the hand cycle, which is how I bike, and the reason why most of my focus is on that is for somebody in a wheelchair that’s by far the most challenging part of the Ironman,” Joe said.
That’s why he’s been in training six days a week, rain or shine, to beat the odds.
“Forty degrees and raining, I’ve had snow to hailing and then gorgeous days, 95 degrees and really beautiful but really hot,” Joe said.
It’s not just the lack of leg or torso power. Living as a quadriplegic also carries impact not visible to the eye.
“As a quadriplegic, my heart rate doesn’t go up as high, I don’t sweat anymore, my diaphragm is weakened significantly so my lungs basically aren’t as big,” he said.
The race is Saturday. And Joe’s goal is to complete it and show everyone limits are only in your head.
“No matter what limitations you set for yourself, you’ve got to still go for it. You’ve still got to dream big, and shoot for the stars, so to speak. And that’s the main message I want people to see,” Joe said.
Joe’s family will be right there at the finish line Saturday as he pushes himself into the record books. He has 17 hours to do it, and become the first quadriplegic to complete an Ironman.