Megunticook Race Festival

Despite challenges, and with 'abilities,' Latulippe prepares to tackle first triathlon

Freeport resident deals with hearing issue, cerebral palsy in grueling quest
By Mark Haskell | Aug 28, 2019
Courtesy of: Abigail Latulippe Abigail Latulippe of Freeport.

Camden — More than 100 bikers, swimmers and runners — or for the ambitious, fans of all three disciplines — will push their endurance, ambition and bodies to the limits at the 39th Megunticook Race Festival on Saturday, Aug. 31.

And, one of those racers, 25-year-old Abigail Latulippe of Freeport, will participate in her first triathlon.

Even for the most able of bodies, the rigors of competing in a triathlon — a swim-, bike- and run-event — for the first time can be daunting.

Latulippe, who graduated from Freeport High School in 2012, was a soccer player and on the ski team in those days and, for all intents in purposes, below the neck, looks the part of a triathlete.

But, all is not always as it seems.

Latulippe has cerebral palsy which, by definition in its simplest terms, is a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture. She also has been “profoundly” deaf since birth.

She received a cochlear implant processor at five years old, which fits around one’s ear like a bluetooth headphone. It greatly enhances her ability to hear, but is not water friendly.

Given her conditions, if she is to to participate, she would require assistance. Assistance that race director Scott Layton was happy to provide.

“I think she’s incredibly strong and brave to be able to step into kind of an uncomfortable zone,” said Layton. “Which I’m sure it must be. But also seeing kind of the joy and accomplishment and gratification of doing something like this [is great].”

Last year, Latulippe attended the Megunticook Race Festival, merely as an observer and to obtain information on “how they set up and run the race.”

After witnessing the laid back, more informal surroundings, as opposed to the more stringent ones offered by races sponsored by USA Triathlon, Latulippe decided it was the race for her.

“This is a great tri as the first one because the distance of each event is manageable and it is a lake swim,” she said. “It is a smaller event, which is great because it can be chaotic if too many people are all trying to get in the water at the same time. The race organizers have been very accommodating and encouraging.  When I met with them last year, they said that the most important objective of this tri is to have fun.”

“We are our own entity,” said Layton. “We are not a USAT race, which is the governing body of triathlons. We make the rules. And the rules are, first and foremost, this is a community event.”

Layton said, there are some rules and considerations, of course, for insurance purposes. But, by and large, “everyone” can participate.

“Our winner last year was diabetic and he needed to receive fuel from an outside source, which is not allowed in USAT,” he said. “And we said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ It’s not about, ‘Oh that’s an unfair advantage.’ It would be unfair to not let him do it.”

Latulippe said it was "mostly the organizer's positive attitude when I chatted with them at last year's race and in all their responses to my inquires which made me feel comfortable to do this tri."

She has been swimming and weight training with the Adaptive Program at the Casco Bay YMCA and has been training on her own for both the bike and run portions of the triathlon.

She also uses a recumbent bike, due to her cerebral palsy, which she finds “more stable and efficient.”

The swim portion of the race, in particular, in the water and afterwards in the transition area, is where she will require an assist.

The biggest concern for Latulippe was, by and large, the amount of people. In triathlons, dozens — sometimes hundreds — of people are running in and out of the water at any given time. And the transition area, where swimmers come out in waves to prepare to begin the cycling portion of the event, can be formidable. Even for those with five perfectly functioning senses.

For the swimming portion, Latulippe uses the backstroke and will wear a light swim vest for added buoyancy. And, her father, David, will kayak alongside her, with the duo on the far left side of the action.

Where Latulippe cannot wear her cochlear implant processor in the water, her father will be able to give her instructions via sign language.

He also will be biking and running alongside his daughter through the other two sections of the race. It also will be his first triathlon.

“We just want her to participate,” said Layton. “Everybody can race. Myself, to the guy who finished first last year, all the way down to people who have never done one who might struggle to finish, [people] who are borrowing a bike, doing it as a relay. The goal here is to keep the race going and have this community event, which promotes a healthy lifestyle, which is good for everyone.”

Latulippe falls into the latter category, and simply hopes to finish the race not just for herself, but “to raise awareness for people with ‘abilities.’ ”

“They may have some challenges and need a few accommodations, but with dedication and hard work they can participate and reach their goals,” she said.

Latulippe also has a webpage fundraising for the event, which she plans to donate to Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation, which promotes year-round education and training for individuals with disabilities in order to develop skills, enhance independence, and provide enjoyment through active recreation.

To donate, visit https://www.firstgiving.com/fundraiser/abigaillatulippe/Team-Maine-Adaptive-2019.

Abigail Latulippe transitions to her bike at Megunticook Race Festival
(Video by: Zack Miller)
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