The right state of mind | September 19, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - September 19, 2008

The right state of mind

Couple overcomes handicap to complete triathlon for a good cause

by Susan Astbury

Competing in a grueling triathlon is daunting for even the strongest athletes, but imagine the challenge if you are missing a hand.

Husband and wife team Keiron McCammon and Kerry Clark, who are from England but now live in Danville, dedicated themselves to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Team in Training program, two years after McCammon, 37, lost his hand in a paragliding accident in South America. As part of that program, the couple was on the Monterey Peninsula on Sept. 13, participating in the Triathlon at Pacific Grove.

"This gave me the perfect excuse to get back in shape and rebuild my left arm, shoulder and legs after my accident while competing in this event in honor of all individuals who are battling blood cancers," said McCammon. "These people are the real heroes, and they need your support to cross the ultimate finish line - a cure."

Team in Training is the largest endurance sports training program in the world. For the past three months, McCammon and Clark trained to participate in this, their first triathlon, and along the way, they raised more than $1l,000 in donations for blood cancer research and patient services.

Before the competition at Pacific Grove, McCammon and Clark visited to preview the triathlon course. The competition was going to begin with a .93-mile swim through cold water at the first stage of the race aptly named "The Kelp Crawl."

"Swimming the freestyle with one hand and without a prosthetic aid, I could somehow swim better now than before," said McCammon. Once out of the water, McCammon and Clark competed in a 26-mile bike ride. After that they had to run a grueling 6.2 miles.

For the bike ride, McCammon had to remove his wet suit, attach his prosthetic hand, and jump on a customized bike designed by Jose Gutierrez, the owner of Danville Bike.

"Keiron and Kerry came to my shop and were trying to find bikes for both of them to ride in the race," recalled Gutierrez.

"Jose was willing to work with me to design a bike with a single brake lever for the front and rear brakes, and both gear levers are on the right hand side," McCammon explained.

"McCammon is proving that anyone can still do what they want to do, and not be afraid of taking chances," Gutierrez said.

McCammon lost his left hand after a near-fatal paragliding accident in Colombia, where the couple, married for eight years, traveled on a vacation that included 10 days of paragliding. On his last day of flying, McCammon lost sight of where his companion had landed and found himself in unfamiliar territory. While trying to land, he hit two electrical power lines, suffering severe burns to his left hand and arm, and right leg.

"It's strange, that still all I can remember prior to the accident was the moment I saw the power lines in front of me as I headed to land," McCammon said recently. "I can't recall the 10 minutes or so that it must have taken to fly from where I last remembered being in the air to this precarious location."

He was rushed to a hospital in Colombia, where he spent five days and endured three surgeries to his arm. But his condition grew worse, and it was determined he should return to the United States. After contacting the Divers Alert Network for emergency medical evacuation assistance, the couple was flown to a hospital in Miami.

McCammon was hospitalized for six weeks and underwent numerous surgeries. His doctor continued in efforts to save his hand but given the extent of the damage, it was uncertain how functional it would be. Reconstruction would have been risky and would have left McCammon susceptible to fatal infections. So he made the decision to have the surgeon amputate his damaged hand.

Losing his hand has not affected McCammon's zest for life and his passion for sports, whether it's scuba diving, playing golf, snowboarding or participating in a triathlon.

"Losing a limb doesn't need to be the end of your life, and how you handle it is up to you," he said. "You decide the meaning, the significance you attach to a situation. It's all about your state of mind, and the state it's in is up to you."

One thing he recalls about that fateful last day of flying was that he realized when he was in the air that he'd forgotten to give Clark his customary kiss prior to take-off.

Team in Training head coach Paul Kinney worked with McCammon and Clark since the beginning of June.

"They are a remarkable and outstanding couple who are an inspiration to everyone on the team," Kinney said. "Not only are they athletes, but they are raising money for blood cancers."

McCammon is equipped with the i-Limb Hand, a device he uses every day when driving 80 miles round trip to work from Danville to his office in Sunnyvale.

"It's a state-of-the-art bionic device, and I'm one of only 200 people in the world with one," he said.

They successfully completed the triathlon over the weekend, even beating their best training times.

"Once you start the race, the preparation and training takes over and all the hard work pays off," said McCammon. Someone presented them with British flags at the finish line.

"In the Kelp Crawl, it's like being in a pond full of fish but it's people swimming on top of each other," said Clark. "The kelp actually gave me time to rest and see where I was going. It was really quite fun and exciting."

"The nicest part of the race was that there were beautiful views and people cheering you on along the course," she said. "Just when I started feeling tired, I'd hear the Team in Training people shout my name and I could push on a bit more."

"Part of the run went through residential areas and people were sitting on their lawns yelling for us. That kept us going," she added.

What's next for this adventurous couple?

"We're going to take some time off, and are thinking about doing another triathlon next year," McCammon said. "We'll continue to travel around the world. Who knows, maybe you'll see us climbing Mount Everest."