Never one to shy away from a challenge, Allysa Seely took to triathlons like a duck to water.
She competed for Arizona State University, and it wasn’t long before she was nationally ranked.
But one day, she started getting headaches and some tingling in her arms and legs. She had trouble running, and even walking. Then, she began having seizures.
After about a year with no answers, Seely was eventually diagnosed with a rare neurological condition where her cerebellum herniated into her spinal column. That caused a traumatic brain injury and an injury to her spinal cord.
“The chance of being able to save the foot and doing sports would be almost impossible,” Seely said.
Most would consider this an impossible choice: remain sedentary and possibly keep your foot, or amputate and get back in the game.
“I wanted to hike,” Seely said. “I wanted to run. I wanted to bike, even if it was just at a recreational level or just for exercise or for fun.”
For Seely, the choice was obvious.
“For me, my identity was being active and being an athlete,” she said. “I didn’t really care what my foot looked like, especially if the prosthetic was going to function better.”
Four weeks after doctors amputated the lower part of her left leg, she was walking with the help of a prosthetic. Seven weeks later, she was running.
“I wanted a purpose in life,” she said. “I wanted some sort of dream or goal to follow, because everything had kind of been ripped out from under me.”
Seely set a goal to go compete at collegiate nationals that spring. She reached that goal just eight months after her surgery, racing against athletes with two legs.
“I’m so stubborn and so strong-willed,” she said. “Even if my brain starts to go to ‘Oh, this is impossible. Oh, this is too hard,’ you just have to try harder.”
Eight years later, Seely is a two-time world champion, winning the paratriathlon in 2015 and 2016. She won gold at the last Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, inspiring people across the globe.
“A new diagnosis, a new disability, a new hardship, even if it’s at work or at home or financial, whatever it may be, that doesn’t define you and it doesn’t change who you are,” Seely said.
Her story caught the attention of ESPN The Magazine, who featured her in their annual body issue. Seely jumped at the chance to prove sexy and strong come in all different packages, and that challenges are really just opportunities in disguise.
“At the end of the day, I’m not much different than I was 10 years ago,” she said.