For as long as she can remember, Mary Kate Callahan’s life has been anything but ordinary.
Before she turned 6 months old, Callahan contracted transverse myelitis, triggered by a rare neurological virus. The disease left her as a T8-T10 paraplegic. Since then, she has overcome one obstacle after another in astonishing fashion, with the guidance of her parents, the love of her family and the support of her friends.
“I believe anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” she says. “My parents embedded the quote, ‘Never, never, never give up,’ into my mind when I was little and I try to live by these words on a daily basis. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.”
This tenacity was evident when she joined a local swim club as a 6-year-old, rode bikes with her friends while using a hand cycle, and competed on Fenwick High School’s varsity swim team. She even made history along the way.
“As part of an effort to swim at the high school level, I teamed up with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Equip for Equality, forcing the Illinois High School Association to create an opportunity for disabled swimmers to compete at the state championship level,” she says. “As a result, six other girls and I were the first disabled athletes to ever compete at an Illinois state championship swim meet.”
Despite participating in a variety of adaptive sports ever since her paralysis from the waist down, she had never competed in triathlons until she met dare2tri’s executive director, Keri Serota.
“When I crossed the finish line in my first triathlon four years ago, my first thought was, ‘When can I do another one?’ Now, four years later, I am competing at the international level,” she says.
Recently, she participated in various paratriathlons, garnering second place honors at the ITU World Triathlon Yokohama, finishing runner-up at the Dallas PATCO Triathlon Pan American Championships and capturing the ITU World Triathlon Chicago. She also raced with the University of Arizona’s triathlon club, the TriCats, during her freshman year of college.
To compete at such an elite level, Callahan recommends that triathletes focus on one workout and race at a time, setting aside specific training intervals in which they focus on goals, previous races and upcoming events.
She also suggests maintaining a healthy balance between training, traveling and racing. To do so, she spends as much time with friends, who she considers some of her greatest supporters, and family as possible, often vacationing with relatives at her grandparents’ Wisconsin lake house in the summertime.
This balance, along with a passion for the sport and a lifelong resolve to exceed expectations, has led her to establish yet another lofty goal: participation in the 2016 Summer Paralympics.
“The paratriathlon will make its debut in the Paralympic Games that year,” she says. “The competition is growing, so it won’t be easy, but my road to Rio has already begun.”
Considering all she has already accomplished in just 18 years, anyone who knows Callahan will not be surprised if her Olympic dreams do indeed become reality and she makes history once again. As Callahan would say, “It’s not always easy, but it is always worth it.”