Lance Weir was in the record book. Then things got weird.
“We were super excited, doing high-fives and everything,” Weir said. “Then the air went out of our balloon.”
Weir, a paraplegic, and his pilot, Parker Berling, were the first tandem bike duo to finish in an Ironman event with a qualifying time last year when hitting the finish line last year after 56 grueling miles in Oceanside.
But after being pulled aside, Team Weir got the news they were disqualified. It seemed their bike blasted through a 25-mile speed zone at 32 miles and that was a no-no.
Weir, who will race again on April 7 at the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, nods in agreement. Although his affirmation comes by mentioning the mitigating circumstances that led to the dilemma.
“Our bike is so low to the ground that we didn’t see any of the signs to slow down,” he said. “We certainly didn’t do it to gain a competitive advantage. With the weight of that bike and the two bodies, we could have been going through that stretch at 55 miles an hour.”
At any speed, Weir and the numerous other riders from the Challenged Athletes Foundation are an inspiration. If lucky enough to ride alongside Weir, his motivation is evident. If fortunate enough to see the pair speed by from the curb that deserves a salute, too.
“We’ve got some unfinished business,” Weir said of reaching the tape in the required 5 1/2 hours to qualify as an Ironman finisher. “A lot of things have to go right with that bike. We can’t have any mechanical problems or anything like that. But that’s what makes it cool if we can do it.”
Weir, of Carlsbad, is one cool cat regardless of when his arms stop making the wheels go round and round. After sustaining a spinal injury 25 years ago that left the Marines Corps Reservist unable to use his legs, Weir can’t believe where his misfortunate has taken him.
He went from throwing a pity party after being hurt to being the life of the party at most CAF competitions. Weir has ridden from San Francisco to San Diego; he also didn’t blink on a 508-mile race over 48 straight hours through the Sierras.
It takes a big man to stand tall after fate dealt Weir a tough hand. But instead of folding, Weir, 48, is flourishing.
“I was an athlete before I got hurt and all that stopped,” Weir said. “I was battling my own demons in my own little life — severe depression, addiction and thoughts of suicide — and I didn’t realize how sports was missing from my life.”
He discovered the CAF through Nico Marcolongo, its Operation Rebound coordinator. Weir’s aim changed when Marcolongo suggested he reach for his air rifle. Weir would go on to earn eight medals at the Marine Corps Trials and the Warrior Games and he participated in the Paralympic.
“Because of the CAF my life had come full circle,” Weir said. “I was back in sports, it was athletics and the physical assertion that had been part of my life was back.”
The CAF lends support on so many levels to those disabled and discouraged, from providing equipment to supplying a nudge when doubt creeps in.
With a gentle push, the CAF got Weir back into the game.
“None of us can understand how hard all of this is for Lance,” said NBA legend Bill Walton, who participates in the SF-SD trek with the CAF. “Despite that, he’s one of the greatest athletes I have ever seen.”
For Weir it’s about the bike, but so much more.
“This has really been a great journey when considering all the awesome people that helped get me to where I am today,” Weir said. “I feel like the luckiest guy in the world and I wouldn’t change a thing. I really mean that.”
Bet against Weir at your own risk. Although he’s grounded enough to know that reaching the finishing line by that difficult standard is a daunting task.
“We’re a year older now and there’s not much room for error to make it,” Weir said. “So we are holding our breath and hoping the stars are aligned for us.”
Weir would be over the moon if he’s first to be classified as an Ironman finisher. Although regardless of what the race clock reads, Weir long ago proved his mettle.
Contact Jay Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @jparis_sports.