WGN’s Mike Lowe is participating in the Life Time Chicago Triathlon to raise money for the non-profit “It Takes a Village Chicago,” a non-profit that builds weight rooms for youth in underserved communities and underfunded schools. You can donate here

Each Tuesday in August, we’re bringing you stories about the Triathlon.

Here’s Triathlon Tuesday Part 1: https://wgntv.com/news/mike-lowe-triathlon/lessons-of-strength-hard-work-inspiring-youth-beyond-club-weight-rooms/

Here’s Triathlon Tuesday Part 2: https://wgntv.com/news/mike-lowe-triathlon/father-daughter-train-together-to-compete-against-each-other/

Here’s Triathlon Tuesday Part 3: https://wgntv.com/video/top-40-bolingbrook-man-prepares-for-40th-consecutive-chicago-triathlon/8909463/

CHICAGO — This week, we’re meeting a man who knows a thing or two about big challenges.

Angelo Perez has been preparing for the Chicago Triathlon for about 12 weeks on what you might call his ‘training wheels.’

“I am a 55-year-old disabled male that is going to try my best at this,” Perez said.

When he’s sitting in his wheelchair, he’s rarely sitting still. He’s been biking with a ‘hand cycle’ and preparing for a 5k wheelchair race in a specialized sports chair.

“I can compete in sport,” he said. “I don’t need my legs.”

Perez lost the use of his legs when he was 23 years old, the victim of a shooting on the Lower West Side.

“I just remember one doctor coming in and telling me I’d never walk again,” Perez said. “Just blunt. Bluntly. I was angry. I was angry.”

The anger became depression, which led to drinking. At an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, a friend encouraged him to find purpose in adaptive sports.

“It was either start living or start dying, and I was dying for a long time,” he said.

Eventually, he joined “Dare2tri,” a Chicago non-profit that specializes in coaching people who are living with disabilities and training them to compete in adaptive sports.

“I loved it,” Perez said. “They pushed me. They said can you go a little farther? And I went a little farther. They just, they challenge you every day to go a little bit farther than your comfort zone. They don’t push you past it. You push yourself past it, but they’re very persuasive.”

Because he can’t move his legs, he never thought he’d be able to swim but with a special wetsuit that adds buoyancy, an ankle brace that stabilizes his legs, and the coaching of Ryan Quilty.

“I think anyone can do a triathlon whether you have a disability or don’t have a disability, I think it’s just about determination and fighting through the pain,” Quilty said.  

Swimming is difficult for Perez because his feet tend to drag, but he said he avoids exhaustion by mixing the backstroke and freestyle swimming.

The Life Time Chicago Triathlon is the world’s largest. It builds a sense of community for all athletes, who are defined by their determination, not their disabilities.

“It shows that people with disabilities are able to do what people think they’re not able to do,” Quilty said.