On the morning of June 12th, 2014, Glenn Hartrick's life changed forever.
A ridiculously accomplished triathlete (he was literally on the cover of Runner's World Magazine in 2012), Glenn was on his bike, 35 miles into a routine training ride just south of the George Washington Bridge, when a car made an illegal u-turn and hit him.
The impact of the collision paralyzed him instantly from the chest down.
Additionally, it left him with 9 broken ribs, 2 collapsed lungs, a broken jaw, broken scapula, and blood clots in his legs. He spent the next 30 days in the hospital undergoing major surgeries, then two months at the Kessler Rehab Institute, healing, doing physical therapy, and learning how to live with his new body.
This November, two and a half years later, Glenn will become the first person in history to finish the New York City Marathon as a runner, hand-cyclist, and in a race chair.
It’s incredible. Glenn willed himself from being bedridden and paralyzed in a hospital bed to now being 6 weeks away from making New York City Marathon history.
Meeting Glenn and learning about his story at the Challenged Athletes Foundation Gala last May, we knew we had to sit down with him at some point for a proper interview.
Whether you’re coming back from an injury/ illness, looking for a kick in the ass, or just generally trying to become a better, more inspired human being, there’s so much to be learned from Glenn Hartrick.
Because of the instructive and motivating (not preachy) nature of the interview, we’ve divided this article into lessons. You can think of each one as a nugget of awesomeness we gleaned from Glenn about living a more legendary life. Enjoy.
When you get dealt a bad hand, make lemonade
A car made an illegal u-turn and hit Glenn while he was riding his bike, training for a triathlon. One person’s careless decision irrevocably changed his way of life forever.
Rather than cursing the driver and lamenting over how terminally unfair the world is—which he had every right to do—he embraced his new normal. He owned it immediately.
“While I was in the hospital, I focused on understanding my new body and how I was going to figure out my new normal. I had to pick myself up and, like, move on. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. This is the new body, this is what I’ve been dealt, and how are we going to maximize this? I was very fortunate in that I had a great support group and friends, family, and people in the multi-sport community, and I just said this is what it is. It is what it is. And one of the things I always said, too, is that you live life with a windshield, not the rearview mirror. And that’s what I’m trying to do day-to-day. I’m trying to make the best out of each day.”
Without a goal you can’t score
The Challenged Athletes Foundation is probably one of the most incredible organizations in the world. CAF provides grants to people with physical challenges, specifically so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competition. The organization’s founded on the belief that athletics and sports, generally, boost self-esteem, encourage independence, and enhance quality of life.
While Glenn was recovering, CAF hooked him up with a legit handcycle. Sweet deal for sure, but in order to get the handcycle Glenn had to tell them, specifically, when he would race. Putting a race date down on the calendar motivated him to recover faster than he ever thought was possible.
Obviously, CAF knows how to motivate their athletes.
“I found the Challenged Athletes Foundation when I was in the hospital. And I’m filling out the application, and it asks you what’s your athletic background and history, and I’ve done over 175 multi-sport events. So I put my little background and resume in there and then they ask, well, what do you want to do? Because they want to know that people are actually going to use the equipment.
So I said, Okay, April 12th of next year, I’m going to do the Rutgers half marathon, just ten months to the date of my accident. And then, next November, I’m gonna do the NYC marathon. CAF's gracious grant catapulted my recovery trajectory immediately following my accident. With a renewed purpose and a goal to work towards, I was able to maximize my training and become stronger and more self sufficient exponentially quicker than I would have otherwise. I have also seen first hand, many similar outcomes in keeping with CAF's ever important mission."
Just be an athlete
When Glenn got his handcycle—literally his vehicle for reclaiming who he was as an athlete in the world—his whole mindset shifted. Before the handcycle, he put all of his focus on recovery. Trying to heal and get a little better each day. With the handcycle, he was an athlete, a fighter again. Primal competitive instincts took over and he started training relentlessly.
“It was groundbreaking. When I got my handcycle, that moment was my trajectory when strength and recovery completely took over. The whole intensity, pushing myself, that athletic mindset just came right back and was natural.”
Evolve. Every weakness contains within itself a strength
Glenn was a triathlete, an endurance athlete. He’s built for it, too. Tall and lean, with the characteristically lithe legs of elite triathletes who can run for days, Glenn’s lower body and stamina were his strengths. Not his upper body.
This made his jump from running to competing in the race chair even more challenging.
“I was very weak, I experienced a lot of muscle atrophy. As a triathlete, you hardly ever use your upper body and triceps hardly, except for the swim. You don’t use the muscle groups you need for a handcycle or a race chair. So I had to learn from ground zero what I needed to do to retrain myself and build that sense of upper body strength that I’d never had before.”
Keep a journal. Write in it every day
Pretty self-explanatory. It’s easy to lose track of days and subtle improvements, especially when progress can be slow and things get super busy. What was crucial for Glenn during his recovery was seeing the gains he made over time. By documenting it all in detail, he could look back in his journal and see how far he had come in his recovery.
“Win the small battles and keep a journal of saying ‘Today I was able to change my shirt for the first time.” A lot of times, time passes and you look back and you realize that you have come very far.”
Anything is possible
“You leave it all out there, personally and professionally. Right now, I’m trying to gauge my limits. I do dream big and do have big aspirations. And it could be going to Kona Ironman and winning Kona as a hand-cyclist. There were a lot of para-athletes at the Olympic in Rio. Tokyo’s in 2020...
You gotta aim big because nothing great ever comes from settling. I love pushing myself, I love challenging myself, and I really think that if I give my all, there are no limits. No to sound conceited, but you work hard, you give it your all, and anything is possible.”
Glenn Hartrick is a triathlete, professor, Challenged Athletes Foundation Ambassador, and incredible human being. You can follow his journey on his website and on his Instagram (as well as the Challenged Athletes Foundation's Facebook and Instagram), as Glenn gets ready to make history on November 6th at the New York City Marathon.
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