Twenty-seven-year-old Roderick Sewell is the first double above-knee (AK) amputee to complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, on October 12, 2019. He completed a 112-mile bicycle ride, 26.2-mile run, and 2.4-mile open-water swim in 16 hours, 26 minutes, and 59 seconds. This impressive performance was the result of his mother’s sacrifice and years of pushing past his limits.
A challenging childhood
Sewell was born missing a tibia in both of his legs; this made walking difficult for him. His mother, Marian Jackson, was confronted with the choice to either have his legs amputated or allow him to live life in a wheelchair. She chose the former, even though she didn’t know what her son’s life as an amputee would be like.
As he grew older, he began to experience phantom pain. The only way to ease Sewell’s suffering was to get him prosthetic legs.
Back then, the only way for Jackson—who used to work for the Navy—to afford the proper prosthetic gear for her son was to file for unemployment. At that time, she thought that the only way to get full coverage for her son’s legs was if she did not earn an income.
At eight years old, Sewell got his legs, but he and his mother were homeless. They had to move from one shelter to the next. It was during this bleak period that an opportunity opened up for Sewell—he was introduced to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).
Pushing past limits
Through CAF, Sewell was able to enjoy sports. It allowed him to live a fulfilling life with fellow adaptive athletes who could challenge him and keep him accountable.
It was during this time that he met Rudy Garcia-Tolson, who’s now a Paralympic swimmer. Garcia-Tolson was instrumental in the development of Sewell’s love for swimming. The pair are now lifelong friends.
This formative period allowed him to see that sports could help him “push past his limits.” He has been challenging preconceived limits ever since.
Preparing for the world’s toughest triathlon
The Ironman is known worldwide as a high-endurance triathlon. Since its inception in 1978, the sporting event has beckoned serious athletes from around the world to test their endurance and strength.
Sewell had heard about the triathlon through his fellow athletes but has never considered participating until the event’s organizers invited him to join.
Sewell accepted the invitation, knowing that his participation would be a big deal not only to CAF and his fellow athletes but also to his amputee community. Preparation for the race involved months of practice on the bike and in the pool.
His efforts paid off, and what kept him going was the thought of all the children with limb loss and their parents who were watching and “wondering if their kid is going to be okay,” Sewell said in an interview for Good Morning America.
Ultimately, completing the race means showing others what is possible.
As of this writing, Sewell is preparing for the trials for the Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan, which will be held from August 25 to September 6, 2020.
“If [Ironman] didn’t teach me anything else, it’s that I literally can do anything I want,” he said.