WACO, Texas — Early Sunday morning, hundreds of athletes hopped into the Brazos River for the first leg of the TriWaco triathlon. It was the group's first triathlon since COVID-19 canceled the event in Waco in 2020.
According to event organizers, around 700 people competed in the race. Many traveled to Waco from outside Central Texas. Some traveled from out of state.
"I've never seen so many people excited for a race," race organizer Francis Cortese said. "Beginners are usually really nervous, but they all just had this certain energy that they were just ready to go, ready to do it."
Cortese attributes the excitement to growing anticipation from athletes who have been unable to compete for more than a year.
The event started at 6:30 a.m. with a pair of paratriathletes taking the water before the rest of the group got underway.
One of the paratriathletes was Jaydyn Chapman, who did triathlons for years before he broke his neck in an accident and had to re-learn how to walk.
"It took me a couple years to learn how to swim again," Chapman said. "So 2015 is when I started competing in the wheelchair division."
Chapman struggled early on with the current in the Brazos.
"It was my first time in Waco and my first time swimming in a river. So that was a real challenge," he said.
As he took one-armed strokes through the water, the rest of the athletes cheered him on from the shore. Those athletes say they were inspired by his effort.
"For all the sprinters, they were standing there, clapping, yelling," Cortese said. "Their jaws dropped watching this guy go through the water with one arm. So, it's wonderful. It's awesome."
Cortese was not the only paratriathlete competing.
Keegan Harrison, the handicapped son of a triathlon-loving family. For years, his parents have used the races as a way to create more memories with their son. Keegan's mom drags him along in a raft during the swim portion and uses an extra seat attached to her bike to take him through the biking section.
"I have so many opportunities as a race director to get teared up, because there's amazing things that happen out there," Cortese said.
Both Chapman and Harrison saw their races cut short because of weather. A line of storms finally stopped their triumphant journey.
But, even as others crossed the finish line, their motivation remains as strong as ever.
"I already want to come back next year," Chapman said.