Ironman triathlete, now paralyzed, takes on racing again with the Austin Marathon

Austin Marathon

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The feeling of training for a race is familiar to Pflugerville resident Tommy Levario.

He and his brothers have competed in several Ironman triathlons together, but his athletic ambitions were halted in September 2017 when the Department of Public Safety says a distracted driver hit Levario while he was biking.

The spinal cord injuries he sustained left him paralyzed. He cannot move from the chest down.

More than two years later, after long stays in the hospital and lots of rehabilitation, Levario is finally going through the familiar motions of preparing for races again.

A photo of Tommy Levario competing using his handcycle in the 3M Half Marathon in January 2020. Image courtesy Tommy Levario.

He took on Austin’s 3M Half Marathon in January as his first “warm-up” competition and is planning to race in the Ascension Seton Austin Marathon this Sunday, which will be the highest-intensity event he has done since the crash.

Levario said it feels good “to have those same feelings I used to have when I used to train, of pushing and going through those thoughts in your head and your mind that you always go through when you’re doing an event or you’re training.”

“You want to quit, you want to stop, but you know, you contemplate in your head, you struggle in your mind: ‘No I can do this,’ ‘Keep going,’ ‘You’re okay, you’re okay.’ So you push through that,” he continued. “So in that regard, it’s an amazing feeling to get those feelings again.”

Levario will compete in the Austin Marathon in the wheelchair category using a handcycle. High Five events, who hosts the marathon, said that there are eight participants competing in this category among all the entrants in each of the three races Sunday.

After the crash in 2017, Levario spoke with KXAN to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. At that time, doctors had told Levario he may never walk again.

“They said I had about 35% to 55% [chance of] surviving,” he said to KXAN back in 2017. “We beat the odds.”

A photo of Tommy Levario’s bike tire after he was hit by a distracted driver in 2017. Photo courtesy Levario family.

Since then he has been working with the staff at St. David’s Medical Center in Austin for both physical rehabilitation and a support group for those with spinal cord injuries.

In 2017, Levario started the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation program at St. David’s Rehab Hospital, which is overseen by Dr. Juan Latorre.

Latorre says Levario is one of around a dozen spinal cord injury patients out of the thousands he’s worked with who has gone on to compete in athletic events.

“I feel proud of Tommy, I feel proud of patients who are able to fight through something as difficult as what happened to him and get back to a normal lifestyle for him, a new normal,” Latorre said.

Tommy Levario working with the staff at St. David’s Rehab Hospital. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

A “new normal” doesn’t mean things are easy for Levario, who attests that just getting out of bed and getting ready to train takes him much longer than it used to.

“You may not be able to do the same things you were doing before, but there’s a way to do things differently, and that’s what we help patients accomplish,” Latorre explained of the spinal cord injury patients he works with.

Levario has been training on his weekends riding a handcycle, starting with going just a few miles and progressing up to two 33-mile rides recently.

The last three endurance events Levario did before the crash were the 3M Half Marathon, the Austin Marathon, and the Pflugerville triathlon. Once he completes the Austin Marathon, Levario has his sights set on the Pflugerville triathlon (and yes he is already practicing swimming).

When it comes to the Austin Marathon on Sunday, Levario has already set goals for himself.

“I think I need to be at 11 miles per hour so I can beat the elite players– runners,” he laughed. “I don’t want them to catch up to me.”

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