The First Triple Amputee to Complete an Ironman Turns to Cycling for Stress Relief

“MOST OF THE TIME, I FOCUS MORE ON BEING IN THE MOMENT, RELAXING, AND LETTING THE BODY EXECUTE.”

Courtesy Rajesh Durbal

Name: Rajesh Durbal
Age: 45
Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Occupation: Real Estate
Time Cycling: 13 years
Reason for Cycling: I ride to set and accomplish goals, and to face my fears.


I was born with a congenital defect, which left one arm partially developed and required amputation of both my legs when I was 1 year old. This has led me to life as a triple amputee. I was put in a partial body cast for six months, and by the age of 2, I was fitted with prosthetic legs and learned to walk. It was much more difficult when I was younger than it is today. Technology and information weren’t available back then, but it didn’t mean that I would give up.

The environment around me forced me to try harder and keep up with my peers and my mentors from a very young age. That fire was cultivated through lots of emotional pain from being different, which also has its own consequences. I always demanded more from myself than anyone could possibly demand of me. That is how I live my life today, every day.

I was always active, competitively participating in sports like snowboarding, slalom skiing, and track and field.

In 2009, I decided I wanted to participate in a 5K, so I bought my first Trek road bike in preparation. I liked the idea of cycling and running, both of which I had never done before. At the beginning, I cycled three times a week and didn’t have any apps or training plans. I went out there and cycled because I loved it.

I competed in different triathlons to gain experience and understand my strengths and weaknesses. I took all my learnings into account to continuously improve my rides, my endurance, and my confidence.

From there, I decided I wanted to do an Ironman. In 2010 and 2011, I became the first triple amputee to compete in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. In 2010, I finished in 14:19:12. And in 2011, I beat my previous time and finished in 13:49.

I am always looking for new challenges and to inspire people. In 2021, I ascended the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. I also recently competed in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, which I finished in 6:29:16.

To prepare for for the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run, I got in three to four weeks of key bike workouts on the trainer. I found the trainer helps me become a much better cyclist. I also do strength training every day.

I remodel apartments as my day job in real-estate investing, so I take rest days as needed—usually once or twice a week depending if it’s a heavy week of work. I also try to have massages every two weeks.

I run three times a week and do a lot of speedwork. I only swam once in one and a half months because the pool pump was broken in the pool I trained, but it worked out.

The training is the best part, because I love the process. The racing is fun, but I really love the daily learning and figuring out how to be better. It is a testament to myself and my self-belief. It’s my proof to myself that I can, and I am, getting into the game, instead of watching life go by. It’s redefining what is possible for me—it’s not about reaching the finish line; it’s about going after a new one every time.

I cycle three to four times a week depending on my schedule. I’m typically on the trainer if I’m time crunched or outside on the weekends. I feel free when I’m cycling. I listen to the wind, feel the sun on my skin, and all my problems disappear when I’m out there for hours. Physically, I also feel stronger because cycling really helps build my core and leg strength.

The prosthetic fit of my bike took many hours and testing over the course of two months, and involved many visits with the fabricators to develop a brand new cycling leg that simulates a calf muscle and ankle. There were eight different versions before we landed on the right design, angles, fit, and carbon tension.

I first tested the bike on the trainer, using a rotor power meter and an app that displays the visual efficiency throughout the entire pedal rotation. There is still more to adjust to make it as efficient as possible and comfortable in the prosthetic. However, this new design increased my power output by 30%.

Incorporating any kind of cycling into your day is important for mental health. For example, I ride my bike around the golf course after a stressful day to help reset and clear my mind. It doesn’t always have to be a competition, but cycling helps you stay moving with minimal impact to the body.

When I’m stressed out with life, I grab my bike and cycle. I don’t pay attention to numbers—most of the time I focus more on being in the moment, relaxing, and letting the body execute. Cycling is a great activity for anyone. It’s low impact, and great for mobilitycardio, and strength building. Anyone can use it as a tool to improve.

These three tips have made my cycling journey a success:

1. Find calm

Relax and enjoy the ride. You perform better when you are relaxed.

2. Honor yourself

Ride your ride—not someone else’s ride. We all are different and the quickest way to mess up your mental space is when you try to be a cheap copy of someone else’s ride.

3. Train hard and be consistent

You can never climb a mountain in one step. It’s about the daily small steps and constant work and improvement.

Rajesh’s Must-Have Gear

→ Craft Essence Light Wind Vest: This is great for cold mornings, and it’s breathable.

→ Clif Bar: An easy on-the-go snack, Clif Bars are packed with protein and healthy fats to boost energy when on a ride.

→ GIEADUN Cycling Sunglasses: Go for these for affordable, polarized sunglasses, and great quality.

→ ISM PN 3.1 Demo Seat: This seat feels comfortable on long rides.

BY RAJESH DURBAL, AS TOLD TO EMILY SHIFFER

SOURCE https://www.bicycling.com/culture/a41830802/how-cycling-changed-me-rajesh-durbal/
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