In March 1991, I was a nationally ranked motocross racer, 17 years old, when I hit a rock headfirst and severed my spinal cord. I was left paralyzed from the chest down.

By that summer, I was racing again, only this time in a wheelchair. Eighteen years, 150-plus road races, 30 marathons, and 29 triathlons later, I crossed the finish line in Kona, Hawaii, as an Ironman World Champion. It took 11 hours and 25 minutes, and I had to battle back from being 20 minutes behind the leader.

I had always dreamed of succeeding at triathlons, specifically the grueling Ironman with its 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run. So I set my sights on the annual Ironman World Championships, certain I could accomplish anything. But I knew it wouldn’t be an easy road.

For years, I worked harder and harder to qualify, missing by only minutes. Others questioned my goal, but I refused to settle for anything less. You can’t let setbacks keep you down. My competitive nature and drive have always been key parts of my life.

I want to show the world that it’s more about heart and spirit than physical ability. As a paraplegic, having only the use of my arms and upper back, it is more challenging to race. Unfortunately, people are often discriminated against in the sense that they are expected to perform at a lesser standard than their able-bodied counterparts.

I believe that if you’re going through adversity, you have to take action. By moving in the direction of your goals and dreams, you come to a place where you are satisfied with yourself, regardless of the outcome.

Fowler works as a medical device consultant for Medtronic outside Boston. He’s training to qualify again for the Ironman World Championships, ramping up with four half-Ironman races. Follow him at