Hometown Hopefuls: Allysa Seely, Arizona
Throughout the summer, in a series called Hometown Hopefuls, NBC is spotlighting the stories of Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls from all fifty states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, as they work towards the opportunity to represent their country at the Paris 2024 Games next year. We’ll learn about their paths to their sports’ biggest stage, and the towns and communities that have been formative along the way. Visit NBCSports.com/hometownhopefuls for more stories from across America as these Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls prepare for Paris in summer 2024.
Allysa Seely repeated as a Paralympic gold medalist in Tokyo. She then spent much of the next year and half with a lifestyle that’s foreign for a triathlete.
“I didn’t have that much to do,” she said.
Seely topped the podium on Aug. 28, 2021. She didn’t contest another triathlon until April 2023.
In 2022, she learned she had a rare condition that compressed major arteries coming off her heart, reducing blood flow to her organs. That was the reason she had lived more than 20 years with constant abdominal pain. Seely underwent aorta surgery that July,
The next month, she had minor ab surgery. Then at the start of the fall, she had knee surgery to repair cartilage damage.
It was her first year away from competition since she took up the sport more than a decade ago while at Arizona State University.
The 34-year-old Seely’s stimulus to return stemmed from that second Paralympic title. She spent four and a half months of the year leading into the Games hospitalized with leg infections, a blood clot in her heart and an endocarditis infection. She wasn’t yet back to 100 percent when she dove into Tokyo Bay.
“I didn’t accomplish my real goal of being my best on that day in Tokyo,” she said. “So that’s really where the motivation lies. I want to see where my boundaries are.”
Seely also recently shared something else that was on her mind in 2021. In a first-person essay for TeamUSA.org in March, Seely discussed bullying that she experienced, both online and in person.
“Just days before the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, it consumed me, quickly becoming unhealthy for the first time,” she wrote.
Seely said in a recent interview that she felt staying silent was the best approach to the abuse. If she ignored it and didn’t give it attention, it would stop.
“But in reality, all that did was make it eat away at my mental health,” she said. “After 10 years, it’s impossible to not allow other people’s negativity in their comments and their outright lies about you get to you. It finally did. It got to the point where it was not healthy, and I needed time away. That time kind of overlapped with being injured and being ill and having a bunch of surgeries.”
Seely said there was a question about coming back to the sport amid that. There are still hard days when she wonders if she’s doing the right thing.
“But I hope in coming back and speaking out I can be an example for even just one other athlete,” she said. “Don’t allow people to end your career before you’re ready to do it.”
That career is coated in perseverance and taking on challenges.
Seely, who was born in Phoenix, learned about triathlon as an ASU freshman and, spurred by an annual goal to try something new, joined the university’s club team. But she soon lost feeling in her legs. She began tripping over her feet on runs and while walking across campus. She slept up to 20 hours a day.
It took nearly two years to get the diagnosis: Chiari II Malformation, basilar invagination and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affect the brain, spine and connective tissues. Seely said she was told they’re often diagnosed in young children. That it happened to her at age 20 floored her doctor.
She underwent brain and spine surgery in 2010. She was told she likely wouldn’t walk without assistance again. She defied that, competing eight months later for Arizona State at the U.S. Triathlon Collegiate National Championships.
She became an elite Para triathlete in 2012, but had to change classifications in 2013 after her left leg was amputated below the knee due to increased spasticity in her foot resulting from her condition. Seven weeks after losing her leg, she swam 1.2 miles as part of a relay team for a local half Ironman.
She then won five elite international Para triathlons in 2014, a world championship in 2015 and then led a U.S. sweep of the medals in her division in triathlon’s Paralympic debut in 2016.
The line “being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional” was on the front page of her personal website in the year leading into the Rio Games.
After taking gold, she moved from Arizona to Colorado Springs, where many athletes reside at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.
But she felt the itch to return to her home state. The last few years, she has split time between the two, making the 12-hour drive with her dogs, Mowgli, an 8-year-old golden retriever, and Bentley, an 11-year-old chocolate labrador.
She prefers to be in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix, for the winter and spring not only for the weather, but also because the state “made me the athlete that I am.”
“Living in an environment that’s so challenging with the heat and the terrain and all of that really makes you learn to love the grueling workouts,” she said.
She sometimes has three training sessions per day in preparation for a busy summer. Though she broke her foot in her return to competition this spring, she intends to return for the Olympic test event in Paris in August and the world championships in Spain in September.
Seely is already the only female triathlete to win two gold medals at the Paralympics or the Olympics. A third might not be enough to satisfy her. She will reassess after the 2024 Paris Games whether to bid for a fourth Paralympics in Los Angeles in 2028, when she will be 39 years old.
“I will continue sport for as long as I love it, as long as my body allows me to do it,” she said. “After Paris, it’s going to be very, very hard to walk away from an opportunity for a home Games.”
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