After boat explosion, double amputee aims for triathlon

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After losing both his legs in a boat explosion, Mike Atherton never dreamed he'd compete in a triathlon this weekend in California, standing tall on his new prosthetic legs.

Atherton’s accident happened in May 2009 on a family boating trip to Beer Can Island. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but he is working to move forward anyway.

Atherton said at first, he felt like he would never live an active life again.

“For months after the accident, I just wanted to lay in bed and not do anything. I had to be coerced to get out of bed in the morning and get going,” Atherton recalled.

He had been a competitive water skier, and within 18 months of the accident, he pulled back onto his skis, but this time on prostheses. But for his first triathlon, Atherton has a special pair of prosthetic legs. He plans to finish as much of the 10 mile run, 44 mile bike and one mile swim as he can.

“If somebody tells me I can't do something, you know I'll figure out a way to do it,” said Atherton.

The prosthetics were fabricated and fitted by the Hanger Clinic in Tampa. Atherton got a grant to pay for the specially-designed set of legs, which are meant for running.

Atherton’s prosthetist, Don Smith said Atherton is a great example of someone who proves they can do anything with the technology available in the prosthetics field.

"[If] you have the attitude to try and take a little bit of risk, and most likely you can do just about anything you put your mind to,” Smith said.

The race, dubbed the Challenged Athletes Foundation's Thrive 5K fitness event takes place Sunday in San Diego.