If all goes well this weekend, Everett native Nick Laraia might have punched his ticket to compete in the triathlon in Beijing – and all with only one foot on the ground.
Well, it’s not exactly how it sounds, but Laraia, an amputee, will be competing this Sunday in the Accenture USA Paratriathlon National Championships in New York City – and if he hits his high mark – he could qualify to participate in the World Championships in China this September.
Laraia – the 56-year-old son of Barbara Laraia – will compete with some 70 athletes in the event, which consists of running 10 km, cycling 40 km and swimming 1500 m. The interesting thing about the field, of course, is that all of them have a significant physical handicap. In Laraia’s case, he has only one leg, and uses a prosthetic for the running and cycling events.
He qualified for the Nationals last summer at an event in North Carolina.
“My chances of winning the nationals are not that good, but if I have a good day I could place fourth or maybe third,” he told the Independent. “I’ve been working out most every day – a lot of times I run in the morning and swim in the evening. I have a lot of friends who really like cycling and go out for rides with me. That’s been a real challenge where they have two legs and I struggle like mad to keep up with them, but that’s been really good for my training.”
Laraia is a resident of North Carolina and a 1973 graduate of Everett High School. He comes back to Everett a few times a year to visit family, he said. He is a physical therapist and has been an athlete all of his life, including playing hockey at Everett High School and also playing in adult hockey leagues until losing his leg.
Ironically, he lost his leg in a freak accident while doing the activity he loves most – cycling.
One day in 2002 while cycling along a country road in rural North Carolina, a semi-truck passed closely to him and the trailer hooked on to a piece of his clothing. He was ripped off the bicycle and went hurtling into the air.
When he came to, he felt fine, but soon realized that his leg had been torn off.
His injury was very significant, but with the help of his wife, Dee Laraia (a native of Andover), he rehabilitated himself using a schedule that he constructed himself through his physical therapy experience. He ended up having to relinquish his hockey stick, but using a prosthetic, he took up the triathlon.
“It’s challenging at times and at times it’s surprisingly not so hard,” he said. “Cycling and swimming aren’t so bad. Cycling with a prosthetic isn’t too different except when you go uphill. It’s really been a work in progress. I was never a runner so that’s been the toughest thing. I did a lot of running events to get used to it. Things like that helped me build up my strength and endurance so I could go more than 50 feet without stopping.”
Laraia said he entered his first paratriathlon in 2007/2008 and has been working his way up the competitive circuit every since.
He credited his wife for being there the entire way, and noted that he used to ride his bicycle all the way from Everett to Andover in the 1970s just to see her.
“I’ve trained with my wife all along,” he said. “She has been really supportive. She’s been a big part of my recovery and training all along this journey.”