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Feb 5, 2013 1:09 PM by Samantha Ptashkin

Tucson parapalegic trains for half Ironman

TUCSON - One look at 34-year-old George Hammel and you know he's not one to sit on the sidelines.

"I really want to show people that I can do it," Hammel says.

He's training for a half ironman in Oceanside, California. "I've never done anything like this before," Hammel says. "I've never even completed a triathlon before, so I'm pretty nervous."

And for good reason.

He's up against a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run. For the run he'll use a specially designed wheelchair. "It's pretty intense to do it as an able bodied person, let alone a disabled person," Hammel says.

Almost 15 years ago, the former professional motocross rider was in a bad accident which left him nearly paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors told him he'd never walk again. But today Hammel is not only walking, he's competing in several grueling athletic events.

Last fall he competed in the 111 mile "El Tour de Tucson". "All in all I think I did really good. I completed it in six hours and 22 minutes," Hammel says.

Which is why he's not too worried about the bicycle and run portion of the ironman.

The swimming however, is a whole new ball game. "I'm just not a water guy," Hammel says. "I've lived in the desert 90% of my life."

He trains with a coach about three hours a week. On March 1 he will head to California to test the ocean waters pre-race. "So that will be the first time I've ever swam in the ocean in my whole life," Hammel says.

But Hammel is taking it all in stride. He doesn't have a specific time he'd like to complete the ironman in. He is just excited to have the chance to prove he can do it. "It's a pretty lofty goal, but it's something I've really been wanting to do," Hammel says.

If his past is any indication, he'll not only cross the finish line, but he'll also be thinking about his next big race along the way.

Hammel will be competing in the ironman on March 30th.

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