Like many great ideas, the Getting2Tri Foundation was born on the back of a cocktail napkin.
Founder Mike Lenhart said he was on an airplane in 2006 when he had the idea for his foundation, which provides training in the sport of triathlon for disabled athletes.
Lenhart, who has been participating in triathlons for about 10 years, said the sport was gaining popularity and he thought it could be a healthy, positive outlet for people with disabilities.
A triathlon is a race that includes segments of running, swimming and cycling. For people with disabilities, participating in a triathlon often means learning how to swim again after an amputation or learning to use special equipment. Lenhart said he wanted to make the sport he enjoyed more accessible.
“What was really missing was somebody at the local level to teach them how to use that equipment,” he said.
The Sandy Springs resident decided the best way to reach people from around the country to was to bring together coaches and disabled athletes for three-day training camps to provide instruction in swimming, cycling and running.
Camps held at Georgia Tech draw about 25 disabled athletes from around the country and the world, Lenhart said.
Training and working with other disabled athletes and coaches helps many people realize that they can lead active lifestyles, Lenhart said.
“I think you can achieve confidence through sports,” Lenhart said. “It opens up confidence in other areas of their lives.”
Even though the camps last only three days, Lenhart said people carry the skills they learn back home with them and incorporate them into their lives.
“It’s really what happens after the camps,” Lenhart said. “It’s the effect these individuals have in their local communities and the ripple effect is huge.”
Lenhart said he realizes not everyone who participates in Getting2Tri will go on to compete in triathlons. “I’m more concerned with them developing healthy habits,” Lenhart said.
One man, a double amputee, was living a sedentary lifestyle when he came to a Getting2Tri camp, Lenhart said. After learning to cycle at the camp, the man bought a bicycle he could operate and began riding with his wife.
“We’ve seen a lot of inspirational stories along the way,” Lenhart said.
Paratriathalon will debut as a sport in 2016 in the Paralympics in Rio, so Lenhart said there’s a lot of interest now among disabled athletes.
“I’m very excited it’s going to be in the Paralympic games in 2016,” Lenhart said.
Lenhart, who graduated from West Point and is a third generation military veteran, said he was initially focused on the wounded veteran community. But because there are so many programs geared toward veterans, he decided to widen his focus.
Lenhart said Getting2Tri is something he does in his spare time as a volunteer. He works full time in IT for Turner Broadcasting as his day job.
“I think we’re all called to do something and make an impact. This is what I’ve chosen to do,” Lenhart said. “It’s so been so remarkable to see it grow.”