A woman who can not walk a step, balance on a bike or even float and a housewife who turned to running to deal with an unhealthy lifestyle are an unlikely duo to take on the South Beach Triathlon this spring.
Kerry Gruson, a disabled journalist turned sailor and community activist, along with Cristina Ramirez, known as “TriathlonMami”, are teaming up to complete the South Beach Triathlon on April 6, 2014, one of the biggest such events in South Florida. While the dynamic duo has no chance of winning, they are using this race to showcase a message—that a ‘Thumbs-Up’ attitude makes anything possible—and to spread this message of optimism and empowerment to the international gathering involved with the race.
A reporter on her way to cover the final months of the Vietnam War, Gruson was assaulted in 1974 by a Green Beret she was interviewing. The Marine had a flashback and, convinced that Gruson was a Viet Cong, strangled her, leaving her for dead. “I survived because I am stubborn,” says Gruson, who was left a quadriplegic. “I have to battle every day with the consequences of this crime. But I’m not angry. I believe both of us are casualties of that war. I refuse to live my life as a victim.”
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After several years of rehab, Gruson resumed her journalism career, joining the New York Times’ Miami-Caribbean Bureau. However, it was through sailing that she rediscovered herself. She says she finds freedom and solace on the water and rekindled her competitive edge by challenging top sailors in international regattas. Sailing also gave her a new community and she became a leader of Shake-A-Leg Miami, the Coconut Grove based accessible community water sports center. ‘ThumbsUp!’ has come to signify how I deal with my life, how I embrace life’s challenges and keep on keepin’ on,” she says.
Cristina Ramirez is also an unlikely athlete, writing about her journey to health and fitness, her life as a teacher, wife and mother of two young sons at www.TriathlonMami.com. She has competed in dozens of races, but says “I still pinch myself every time I cross a finish line.” After completing Ironman Florida in November, Ramirez decided to help someone else feel the same elation and unequivocal sense of accomplishment. “I wanted to help someone who otherwise would not be able to do a triathlon to call themselves a triathlete,” she says. “Triathlon was my path not only to health but to self confidence and to the realization that I can do much more than I think I can.” Her first thought was to turn to her friend Gruson. She found a very eager partner.
Each woman faces her own set of challenges. “I need to get stronger in order to be able to move Kerry, but she will have to overcome the challenge of being towed, pulled and pushed,” says Ramirez. The race consists of a .5 mile swim, a 19 mile bike ride, and a 4 mile run.
The team is receiving support and encouragement from individuals, businesses and organizations from throughout the community. The special equipment Ramirez will use to propel Gruson for the bike ride and the run has been purchased by Ultrabikex Key Biscayne, Ramirez’ bike shop. They are also training Ramirez on a Computrainer so she can gain strength. Gruson will wear a body skin from Body Glove as protection from the cold Atlantic. The leadership at the World Trade Center is arranging for the guests at the Miami celebration of the United Nations International Women’s Day to sign the duo’s racing uniforms. And the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade has offered to promote their effort. The campaign will be recorded by Arielle Orsuto, an award-winning student videographer at the University of Miami. Others are also coming on board.
“Every day for me is a struggle but I believe if you have a dream, set a goal, are serious about it and are willing to work hard for it … you can do anything …even finish a triathlon,” Gruson says. “And have a lot of fun doing it. Our ‘#ThumbsUp!’ message resonates everywhere we turn.”
You can follow Kerry and Cristina’s progress on the @TriathlonMami blog, Twitter and Facebook pages under #ThumbsUp!