At the age of 16, Ricky James’ dream was to become a professional motocross rider. Now, at the age of 24, his sights are set on becoming the first athlete to compete in an Ultraman while in a wheelchair.
By the time he was five, James was riding motorcycles, and by the time he was 16, he had made it onto the Honda All-Amateur team. However, while racing at the Amateur Nationals Competition in Lake Whitney, Texas in the spring of 2006, James collided with another rider and broke his back, crushing his T7 vertebrae, resulting in paraplegia. But in a matter of just over a month, James had undergone and recovered from a surgery to stabilize his back, and had learned the skills necessary to live life as a paraplegic.
James continued to compete in racing events, and in 2008 he participated in the X Games 14, going on to win a silver medal in the first annual Adaptive Motocross X Games event. However, also in 2008, James took on a new athletic challenge of an entirely different kind—triathlon.
He participated in his first half Ironman triathlon at Ironman 70.3 Hawaii in Honu, a race that would help him get to Kona, which was his ultimate goal.
“I thought it was going to be my last triathlon after I had completed it,” James says. “It was so much tougher than I thought it was going to be. Flying home from Hawaii that first time I was like, ‘Man, I’m done with this. This is hard. This isn’t as fun as I thought it was going to be.’ [But] a week out from the race, I thought back on it and thought, ‘Alright, this is probably going to be even more fun because it is so hard.’”
And so James went on to compete in the 2008 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii that year, completing the race with a time of 12:44—a time James says he was “pretty happy with.” From there he went on to cinch the title in his division at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Fla. Then, James decided to end on a high note—though not necessarily for good.
“I was like, ‘Alright, I’ve done what I want to in this sport’ and kind of called it quits,” says James. “But about a year and a half ago I took it back up again. I figure I can do it better this time around.”
And what’s changed? James says the difference lies in his focus. Now, instead of juggling both motocross and triathlon, James is solely devoted to triathlon.
And he’s not taking it lightly this time around. Prior to his competing at Ironman Lake Placid this Sunday, James has raced at Ironman 70.3 California, Ironman Cairns, and Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake this year. Following Lake Placid, he plans to go on to compete in two more Ironmans and another Ironman 70.3 before the year is out.
“I still kind of consider myself a newbie at this sport, for sure, and these guys have been doing it for 10, 15 years,” says James. “[But] I’m getting closer to them. Now I’m looking on to next year and I’m just trying to finish up this year.”
James says that one of the biggest differences between when he began triathlon in 2008 and when he picked it back up in 2012 is his ultimate goal. In 2008, he was looking to get healthy and strong after a shoulder injury, and to knock something off his bucket list.
“Now getting back into it, I am focused on getting faster,” he says. “I want to beat those guys and their times from when I was doing it in ‘08. I thought they were insane and I would never be able to even come close. I see now how much fun it is to be on their heels. Hopefully over the next couple years, I will be the guy!”
And helping him to reach that goal is the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
“Challenged Athletes Foundation has been great to me and from what I have seen, great to so many others to get them back active. It’s an awesome mission that CAF is on to make others’ dreams possible, including mine. As a para-triathlete, there can be more costs associated with competing and it is a huge help to have CAF involved.”
Moving forward, James says he is more focused than ever on swim, bike, and chair.
“I will have four Ironmans and three 70.3s this year, so I will have more experience going into 2014 and the goal to get to Ironman World Championship,” James says. “One of my main goals is to get to Kona and compete to my capabilities. My main goal, however, is to do an Ultraman. It has not been done by someone in a chair before and I want to be the first! All the Ironmans I am doing are to prepare for longer distance someday.”