In some ways, Laurie Booher will be like the other estimated 250 to 300 competitors in Saturday’s Columbus Challenge Triathlon.
But in one very big way, she’ll be quite a bit different.
When Booher swims the half-mile course beginning and ending at the Tipton Lakes Marina, she’ll have a rope tied to her waist, pulling a green inflatable kayak with her 87-pound son, Collin.
Then, on the 15-mile biking portion on roads south and west of Tipton Lakes, Laurie will push Collin in a carriage/wheelchair that she’s borrowing.
Finally, Laurie will push Collin in his regular wheelchair as she runs the 5K (3.1 miles) through Tipton Lakes.
“He’s asked me for probably eight or 10 years,” said Laurie, who will be doing her first triathlon. “I always bring him over, and we watch friends do the triathlon, and he always would say ‘Can I cross the finish line ever with you one day?’”
Collin, 16, was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the waist down. Laurie, 50, will have to carry him about 200 yards uphill from the end of the swim at the Tipton Lakes Marina boat ramp to the transition area in the parking lot.
“The biggest challenge is the logistic side of it and her being in the water and how to manage that with the other swimmers,” said Foundation For Youth’s Jen Shaver, the event director.
“Then also, getting out of the lake, it’s very slippery. She’s going to carry him up from the lake to the transition, so we’re thinking through the support that she’s going to need while in the lake and then heading out to the (bike and run) course.
“It’s awesome for us because it really shows that triathlon is such a good sport for people,” she said. “It’s really empowering, and it shows that anybody can be a part of it in some way.”
That was Laurie’s main focus — how to get Collin involved.
“He always says, ‘Can I go run with you? Can I ever just cross the finish line?’” Laurie said. “Our theory has always been to try to make his every days as normal as possible, and if he has something he’d like to do, if it’s feasible, we can figure out a way to make it happen.
“We’re going to do it because it’s something that Collin has always wanted to do, and I think we have it figured out this time how we can make it happen,” she said.
Laurie has been a runner for most of her adult life and has ran 10 marathons. She has plenty of experience running with Collin.
Swimming and biking are another matter.
“I run and bike and stay fit, but the swimming I thought would have been my downfall, but it actually has been a little easier than I anticipated,” Laurie said. “I didn’t think I was an efficient swimmer.”
But Kim Reed, a trainer at Tipton Lakes Athletic Club, showed Laurie how to do her stroke and breathing technique a little better. Then, she attempted the swim with Collin in the inflatable kayak they found while on vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
“I jumped in the water and the first time swam the whole route with him,” Laurie said. “I knew if I could do that, I could probably make it through the whole triathlon.”
Laurie is borrowing the carriage/wheelchair from Wayne Eckerly, who has a daughter with special needs and has a bike from Germany. Collin rides in front in the carriage/wheelchair that is hooked to the bicycle.
“I really didn’t want to haul him behind me in a drag-along carriage,” Laurie said. “I thought that would be a little dangerous. Collin loves it because he feels like he’s in the driver’s seat. He was waving at everybody. We had a blast.”
Last fall, Laurie ran the Mill Race half-marathon with Collin.
“He gets such a thrill out of having an event local,” Laurie said. “Last year when we did the half-marathon, people all along the sidelines knew his name from school and friends and neighbors. I think he gets such a joy out of crossing the finish line, especially if there’s people around that he knows. It’s a big thing for him.”
Collin, who plays wheelchair soccer, has been in attendance to watch most of Laurie’s marathons. He also attended most of the events of his older siblings, Cory, 23, and Kylee, 18.
Now, Collin is excited for an adventure of his own.
“I’m ready for it,” Collin said. “I’m ready to cross the finish line. It’s been crazy this week, but I’m ready for the actual day of it.”
So is Laurie.
“We’re not in it for being the best time and winning,” Laurie said. “We’re just going to cross the line before they close the course.”