From tragedy to triathlon
McAllaster has come full circle through life challenge
by Gary Franchi
Courtesy of The Pueblo Chieftain (Article)
While there’s no question that John McAllaster’s life was changed forever by a motorcycle accident on January 20, 2001, it was a decision he made five years later that actually has had the biggest impact on him.
That’s saying a lot since McAllaster lost part of his left leg just below the knee in that horrific accident in St. David, Ariz., when a truck illegally pulled out of a crossroad in front of his 1986 Honda Shadow. He was 24 years old at the time. It resulted in 49 body fractures, many of them in his left leg, and led to a 16-hour surgery by a team of 12 doctors and then six subsequent surgeries and partial amputation of the leg.
It took a prosthetic and more than a year of extensive rehabilitation to get John walking properly again. The accident should have been his wake-up call that changed what had become a nasty life of petty crime, drug possession and dealing, methamphetamine addiction and two years of minimum security prison time in Arizona.
But John didn’t change his ways until his mother and stepfather, with whom he had lived in Arizona since his accident, decided to move to Pueblo. His mother gave him an option — if he “cleaned up,” meaning got off drugs and his negative lifestyle, he could accompany them.
“I had hit rock bottom, and that was my last chance,” McAllaster admitted, pointing out that his sister’s death at the age of 35, when John was 28, had devastated him and sent him into depression. “But I finally had had enough and said ‘This is it.’ ” He accompanied his parents here, weaned himself off meth and has turned his life around 180 degrees. But was that really a bigger impact than losing a leg?
“I would have wound up dead or in prison,” he said matter-offactly of the direction he was headed following his sister’s death.
Since then, he’s found a new lifestyle. Four years ago, the federal Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Service got him an internship with the Saunders Implant & Denture Center, where McAllaster has flourished and now works as a full-time employee making dentures.
“I love what I do,” John noted.
“I can relate to what it’s like not to have a piece of you.”
His life took another positive turn in March 2011 when he joined the Pueblo Athletic Club and began channeling his energy into getting in shape with weights, swimming and running.
Early this year, John noticed one of trainer Rob Archuleta’s cardio classes, which has elements of the highly popular CrossFit workouts, and asked if he could join the group.
“He showed up the next time and did some of the things, even the jumping jacks,” said Archuleta, explaining that McAllaster kept adding different workout routines as time went on. Running on the treadmill and swimming, he then tried one of Archuleta’s indoor triathlons at the PAC in February.
Since then, he’s been cycling outdoors this year with Archuleta and his Addict2Athlete (A2A) training partners and supporters and bought a Specialized Allez model from the Great Divide retail shop a few weeks ago. Rather than needing time to get acclimated to his new wheels, McAllaster has jumped full force into the training rides.
“If I had one word to describe him, it would be ‘fearless,’ ” said Archuleta, no stranger himself to intense workouts.
That fearless spirit is what led McAllaster to try his first outdoor triathlon in mid-June when he was part of the A2A team that competed in the 5430 Boulder Sprint Triathlon at the Boulder Reservoir. He also is planning to do the Olympic-distance San Diego Triathlon Challenge that the Challenged Athletes Foundation will sponsor in October for those with some kind of disability.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how other people do — how they cope,” he said of the Triathlon Challenge.
The CAF’s mission is to provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. Notably, it also provides grants to fund adaptive equipment.
Running with the prosthetic he wears causes John to stop every couple of miles and wipe the moisture off the pad that lines the leg piece. Now that he’s adopted such a healthy lifestyle, he would love to have a running prosthetic, but the price tag is in the thousands of dollars and prohibitive — at least right now.
Knowing where he came from, McAllaster appreciates what he has today. While he’ll obviously never forget the accident, now he no longer needs pain pills, is healthy with an active lifestyle, has job skills and enjoys being involved with one of his favorite pastimes as a member of a billiards team. He credits the PAC with helping him by installing handrails in the showers, and he also appreciates having a great support group in the AZA that Archuleta founded.
“Rob has been a great motivator for me,” the 5-foot-10, 150pounder said. “I feel fantastic — feel great.”
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