Committed to Chasing the Dream

Stories of Commitment: Allysa Seely

Allysa Seely is a powerhouse. 

When you type her name into a search bar, Wikipedia will make that fact perfectly clear. Of the international level paratriathlon races Allysa has started since 2016 (18), you can count the number of times she didn’t win on one hand (4). Of those “losses”, she placed second three times. She is a three-time world champion and was the first person to win a Paralympic gold medal in triathlon in Rio 2016. Five years later, Allysa’s name was written in the history books again, as the first woman to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in triathlon.

Allysa Seely winning Tokyo Paralympic Triathlon

Allysa has a deep love for racing, steadfast determination, undeniable talent – and she’s not one to ever take “no” for an answer.

What you can’t see in Allysa’s long list of achievements on a generic web biography are the races she didn’t start. The challenges she has faced over the past 11 years since being diagnosed with Chiari II Malformation, basilar invagination, and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which affect her brain, spine and connective tissues, have been numerous. In 2010, after her initial diagnosis, she underwent brain and spinal surgery, and in 2013 her left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Allysa suffers from muscle weakness and imbalance, chronic pain, and autonomic nervous system issues due to her illness. In 2017, Allysa underwent six abdominal surgeries in four weeks after Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome caused gastroparesis. In 2020, she faced multiple infections in her leg and eventually was diagnosed with endocarditis (inflammation in the heart) and blood clots in her heart that resulted months in and out of hospitals and being unable to train for the majority of the year.

With each challenge she’s faced, Allysa has had to listen as some medical professionals explain her limitations and ask her to re-examine her goals to compete at the highest level. But each time she’s answered the chorus of “no’s” with unwavering commitment – a commitment that has led Allysa to achieve successes beyond anyone’s expectations, chasing and accomplishing the dreams she has been brave enough to dream.

Allysa Seely at home

We caught up with Allysa after she arrived back in Colorado from winning gold in Tokyo. Get to know her a little better below:

Liv: Hi Allysa! If you were introducing yourself to someone you didn’t know, what would you tell them about yourself?

Allysa: I am a 2x Paralympic Gold medalist in triathlon and 3x world champion. I am a daughter, a mentor, a friend, and an auntie. I have two amazing dogs, Bentley and Mowgli. We hike, run, camp and swim together when we aren't playing fetch or snuggling. In my spare time I enjoy baking and would love to have a home-based bakery as a side hustle, but no time right now! I also enjoy crocheting stuffie toys for foster kids and the children's hospital, and I’m a big fan of puzzles and game nights with friends.

Allysa Seely with her dogs at home

Liv: Where do you live and train? 

Allysa: I am based in Colorado Springs, Colorado for training. I love it here – the climbing is spectacular – and I can ride road, mountain and gravel all straight from my house. I hate winter, though, and one day dream of having a small place in Southern California for the winter months.

Liv: How would your friends describe you? 

Allysa: My friends would describe me as the most stubborn person they have ever met, a human encyclopedia and always ready to help no matter the situation. 

Liv: What’s your superpower?

Allysa: I wasn’t sure so I asked my friends and they all agreed it would be "lightening/super-speed"

Allysa Seely training

Liv: Could you tell us about paratriathlon and the category you race in?

Allysa: I race in what is known as the PTS2 category in paratriathlon. Paratriathlon is for individuals with physical disabilities, and it is divided into categories for visual impairment, standing category and wheelchair. I am in the category for the highest level of impairment in the standing category. Meaning I ride an upright bike and run. I think it is important to know that in paratriathlon we race under all of the same rules able-body triathletes race. Our race is a non-drafting sprint race at the international level.

Liv: Do you experience microaggressions in sport? 

Allysa: Absolutely. One example that has happened numerous times to me is in mass start races and when I am new at group training sessions. I will position myself where I feel is appropriate based on the level of competition in the field – sometimes this is mid-pack, sometimes at the front. When people who had been beside me or behind me see I have a prosthetic, they will walk around me to position themselves in front. If I try to reposition, they will do it again. At one 5k race in particular, I was relatively assertive at first and kept putting myself at the start line and would be stepped in front of over and over. I finally let it be because the race was timed with a chip. When I won the women's field and finished sixth overall, many of the people I beat then asked if having a prosthetic was an advantage. It was as if there was no way I could run that fast if my prosthetic didn’t give me a benefit. SPOILER ALERT: having a prosthetic leg and a partially paralyzed other leg is not a competitive advantage.

Liv: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced since the beginning of 2020?

Allysa: Over the last 18 months I faced some life-threatening health concerns that hospitalized me multiple times over a four-month period. Coming back was quite possibly one of the hardest roads I have ever traveled, especially given the tight timeline to qualify and compete in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. I had the support of so many amazing women locally in my close friends who became training partners and from afar from competitors, the Liv Racing team and friends spread across the world. I think the most important lesson I learned over these past 18 months is that I am most successful when I am focused on my own goals and performance and having fun.

Allysa Seely on the Avow Advanced Pro

Liv: What did it feel like to win a second gold medal in Tokyo? Did this win feel different than your first gold in Rio? 

Allysa: The paths to these two gold medals were so different that the feelings of winning will never be the same. My first gold wasn’t easy, but I had—for me— a relatively successful lead up into the games with no major injuries or illness to combat. I was undefeated for over a year going into the race and was confident in my training and preparation. I knew if I did my best I would be hard to beat. I was calm, I was confident and I was ready. The path to this medal was entirely different. I have had a really hard eighteen months littered with surgeries, severe illness and injury. I hadn’t raced in two years. Although I found my confidence and my calm the week before the race, I had no idea how the race would shake out. Running down the finish line and grabbing the banner I was filled with disbelief, gratitude and the little voice in my head was saying, “WE did it.” 

Liv: With this goal accomplished, what’s next?

Allysa: The dream lives on from here. Short term: I want to break a few world records on the track I have been aiming toward for the past few years and I want to take a bit of time to have some fun: meet my new niece, go on my first bikepacking trip with an amazing group of women, go skiing, and maybe a vacation before turning my focus to Paris. With just three years until the next chance to chase gold my focus will turn pretty quickly to how I can continue to set the bar in paratriathlon and defend my now two golds.

Liv: Beyond your sport, what else are you passionate about? 

Allysa: I am passionate about advocating for closing the gender bias in healthcare, inspiring children and women with complex medical conditions to chase their dreams whatever they may be, and sustainability in sport.

Liv: What message do you hope people take away from your story? 

Allysa: Our biggest dreams are discovered through hard work, support from an amazing team, and never quitting on ourselves.