Athlete Spotlight: Patricia Collins


Posted by staff

"Six weeks after U.S. Army Colonel Patricia Collins returned home from a deployment in Iraq, she was struck by a car while riding her bicycle to work at Fort Bragg, in North Carolina. Ten grueling months later, at the age of 38, she made the decision to have her damaged left leg amputated below the knee. At the time, Collins LC’91 was mainly concerned with learning to walk with a prosthetic leg. Breaking a world record in the triathlon was not exactly a top priority." (from Rutgers Magazine, "Soldiering On"). Yet she did just that, finishing 2013 IRONMAN 70.3 Augusta in 5:32.41 and setting a new world record for the fastest half iron by a female single amputee. She has had a storied paratriathlon career including a win in PT4 last year at ITU Edmonton, Gold at the ITU Grand Final in 2012, and Silver in 2013. Learn more about Patty Collins in our Athlete Spotlight. 



Tell us about Patty Collins!

I gave up my military rank last year having retired from the Army after 24+ years. I'm currently living in Alexandria, Virginia taking my first year of retirement training full time and enjoying the roses I had not previously made time to stop and smell. It has been a terrific opportunity to reacquaint myself with friends and family and although I've lived in the Alexandria area off and on for 8 of the last 15 years, I am enjoying finding new places to explore and for the first time in my adult life, establishing some roots in my community.


What is your athletic background? Have you always been active?

I ran track and cross country in high school (long enough ago that we didn't even have SONY walkmans, let alone iPods and iPhones). Initially it appealed to me because my friends ran, but later I discovered how much I enjoy getting lost in nature whether running or riding or paddling.  I've also enjoyed skiing, horseback riding, kayaking and nearly any outside activity available to me.  I had a very short lived rowing career in college. Rowing was fun, but as a freshman, I hadn't mastered time management, study skills yet. Academics, ROTC and sports were too much, so rowing had to go by the wayside. I discovered triathlon in 1989 after participating on a few relays.  My first race was fairly forgettable from a performance perspective, but mentally, i was hooked!!!  I continued to pursue triathlon during my Army career wherever I lived, although some assignments were more challenging and time consuming than others. I've raced sprints through Iron distance, and must say, 70.3 is my favorite distance and I do look forward to returning to longer course races in the future. I also really enjoy mountain biking and have a goal of returning to the snow and learning cross country skiing in the future.


In 2008 you ran your first 5K, how soon after that did you add in triathlon?

After losing my leg, I ran my first 5k within a year and my first sprint tri, about 3 weeks later. There are a few more logistics to concern yourself with as an amputee, but it's still racing and the physical challenge and emotional reward are still very much the same as they've always been.


Were you self-coached? When did you begin to be coached, and how has that changed the way you train?

I worked with a cycling coach in 2011-2012 because I was focussing on ParaCycling. I had continued with local age group triathlons and events with the Challenged Athletes Foundation, but I didn't compete as a ParaTriathlete until 2012 and only because I was living in Texas at the time and ParaTri Nationals were there that year. My cycling performance didn't result in a berth to the 2012 Paralympic Cycling Team, but it appeared I had some triathlon potential and truly, I fell in love with the sport all over again. I spent most of my adult athletic career being self coached, but knew if I wanted to maximize my potential and follow my Paralympic dream, I needed help.  Coach Chris and I are coming up on our one year anniversary of meeting (at a ParaTri swim camp in Colorado Springs) but have only worked together as full time coach and athlete since November. Chris is not just an amazing coach and human being, but I think we really "click" on many levels. We have entered our relationship as equal partners and it's been fantastic.  I have much more structure to my workouts and near immediate feedback and we have a great deal of mutual trust and respect for one another. I know I can call her up and tell her I didn't have a great workout or that I am dealing with some extraneous life "stuff" and always receive positive feedback and support as well as a way to move forward. Talking through more than just watts and heart rate for me is super beneficial. 


What are the main races on your schedule this year?

My biggest upcoming race is the Continental Championships in March in Sarasota, FL.  It's the season opener for US ParaTriathletes and will be a great opportunity continue earning points for a coveted Paralympic team membership.  I haven't fully decided what other specific races I'll do this year other than the goal of standing on the swim dock in Rio on 11 September wearing Stars and Stripes.  There will be other ITU races and some local Sprint Tris where I will participate as an age-grouper. 


What are your strengths in the sport? What areas do you seek to improve?

I think cycling is my strength today, but I've been working hard  swimming and running in the off season.


You've served as a guide for Amy Dixon. Will you be doing any more guiding in the future?

Guiding is fantastic and something I really enjoy, so yes, I will absolutely take advantage if that opportunity presents itself in the future.  I currently guide for a visually impaired cycling club in my community once a week and it has been great fun.  For a sport such as triathlon that can sometimes feel very selfish, guiding gives me a chance to share something I love with someone else.  Guiding can also be a little stressful.  As a guide I'm truly just a piece of equipment (that can sometimes make too much noise).  Having a "mechanical" isn't an option, for a guide.  I want my athlete to have a fantastic day, no matter what.  So, I have to be on my A game for them. (read more about her guiding Dixon in "Triathlon leads Army colonel to inspire others.")


How was it training during deployment when you were in the Army? What sort of adjustments did you have to make?

Training during a deployment is not always easy.  I've been fortunate in that there has always been a gym and a stationary bike and at least a one mile loop within my compound.  It can, however, become a challenge of time management.  While we can never argue the benefit of what an easy 30 min jog can bring to our mental acuity, sometimes you sacrifice that 30 minutes for extra sleep or on something time critical for your job.  Working out during a deployment for me became something I did to just stay mentally strong and moderately fit.  I never had a deployment where I had more time to devote than a couple workouts a week.  I wouldn't trade any of it though.  Deployments are hard, and they are suppose to be.  I came home more appreciative of things like just having the freedom to go outside in shorts and run anywhere I wanted.


How has your extensive army background influenced the way you train?

My military career taught me a lot about myself and others.  It did teach me discipline and an ability to endure hardship and uncertainty.  That translates well to training and racing.  It also gave me some amazing friends and role models.  I learned my career really became a journey of interacting with some remarkable people to accomplish some seemingly insurmountable tasks.  I had many opportunities to stretch myself and grow.  Triathlon is very similar.  I find I learn and am inspired by all of my teammates from youngest to oldest, least experienced to most seasoned athletes.  Sometimes it's easy to become a little envious of the younger athletes because they recover so quickly and don't seem to need as much time on the yoga mat or with physio, but the nice thing about para sports is we all compete and train together and we can all learn and be pushed by one another.  Believe me, they push me!!!


Does your son show interest in swimming, biking, or running?

My son, Gabe is 9, and although very active and athletic, is uninterested in any organized sport, and that's really OK.  He can be coerced into riding his bike a couple miles if there is ice cream at the end and what kid doesn't want to spend the summer jumping in a swimming pool or chasing his friends, running through the neighborhood?  That's practically a triathlon.  Come on, we all dream about indulgences like ice cream after riding our bikes, right?  He is exposed to lots of things and when he's inspired, something will stick.  It would be awesome to see him take up the sport of triathlon, but as long as he is happy, healthy, and doing well in school,  I'm exceedingly proud of him. He does, though, find great amusement putting on my swim goggles or fins parading around the house pretending he's me.  He once put on a pair of my arm warmers under his shirt and told me he didn't need to wear a jacket outside because he was "layering."  These are Life Skills!!!


Do you race locally?

I LOVE completing locally as an age-grouper!  I've been so fortunate to be exposed to such great coaching and learning, I've been able to remain very competitive with my "old lady" age group at races.  ITU racing and chasing Olympic dreams is amazing, but racing in your backyard with local clubs and friends is a super fun environment as well.***


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