During his first Olympic distance triathlon experience in Gerardmer, France, in September 2008, Mohamed Lahna noted an inscription on the racing bib above his number: Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon Series.
“Oh, I have to go there one day,” thought the Casablanca, Morocco, native at the time, not realizing that he would be escaping from, not to, the iconic San Francisco landmark, and that he would be doing it as a Bay Area resident.
Fresh off his victory in the Olympic distance physically challenged division in last month’s Tri-California Wildflower Triathlon, Lahna, who lives in San Mateo with wife Ru Chen, will be part of a three-man relay representing the Challenged Athletes Foundation in the June 10 Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.
Lahna will be taking the plunge with 2,000 fellow “escapees” into the frigid Bay waters off the coast of Alcatraz next Sunday. He’s done it before, at the Alcatraz Challenge Swim last May, where he completed the 1½ miles in 38 minutes, 53 seconds, a time that would put him well within the top tier of all competitors. Not bad for a guy who was born without a femur in his right leg.
“Imagine the rest of your leg moved higher, the heel is where the knee should be,” said his wife, a prosthetist and orthotist by profession.
After reaching shore, Lahna’s day will be done as he turns things over to Alan Shanken for the second stage, an 18-mile bike ride. Geoff Turner will anchor the race, completing the 8-mile run for the team, nicknamed “The Wrecking Crew” by the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
As a young boy in Casablanca, Lahna took his share of teasing, but he just wanted to run like the other kids. Now he can, with the help of a prosthetic, and he’s making up for lost time.
“When I got my running leg, I had to learn how to run. It was crazy, felt like I was flying,” Lahna said. “It’s now my favorite event.”
Next up for the 30-year-old athlete is the New York City Triathlon in July. His love for running will be seriously tested next year as he’s considering Morocco’s “Marathon des Sables,” a week spent running in the desert. For the next four years, Lahna will be working toward his ultimate goal, qualifying as a triathlete in the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil.
“I want to send a message to other physically challenged athletes not to be discouraged because of their disabilities,” said Lahna, who wishes to encourage companies to reach out and sponsor the inspirational athletes.
WHEN: June 10, 7:30 a.m.
START: Swimmers take their plunge from Alcatraz Island
FINISH: The winner will cross the line at around 9:30 a.m. at Marina Green
FESTIVAL VILLAGE: Will take place at Marina Green, opening at 11 a.m. Saturday and 6:30 a.m. Sunday