IMPACT – Rodger K

I started competing in triathlons in 1988. There used to be a triathlon at Blue March put on by Pretzel City Sports. It was a full Olympic race. It felt good because I could do multi-sport challenge. As athletes, doing the same thing over and over, your body’s going to feel that strain. It was always good to do more than one sport. It makes you well rounded, it’s better on your body. In high school, I was on the swim team, I was on the golf team, I was on the baseball team. I was never the best at any of them, but I was well-rounded. And, it takes a well-rounded athlete to do triathlons.

My injury was on December 5, 1999. It was an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon. I was riding out Rte. 897. If you ride it far enough, it goes out to Kleinfeltersville, but there’s a left-hand turn in the actual village of Cocalico. It’s a tiny town, not even a single stoplight. After I made the turn, a car came and forced me off the road. I went down into the ditch. I had a T12 spinal injury and broke my collarbone. I was lying there, I realized right away I couldn’t use my legs. I got lucky though. There was a woman who was baking Christmas cookies. She saw the whole thing from her window, saw me flip over and everything. This was before cell phones and she ran out with her wireless home phone. I got lucky, I was really far down in that ditch and a car driving by wouldn’t have noticed me. She called 911 and the paramedics were there pretty quickly.

It took months to sink in. I always thought I’d regain use of my legs. It never completely sinks in. You just start to look at things in a different way. It took a year to finally realize I’d never have full use of my legs.

After about a year of therapy, I saw that it was going to be a long long road to recovery. You keep working at it every day though. Even 23 years later, I’m still working.

I never had a dark period. I never needed to take meds for depression or anything. Sadly, many support groups have a downer attitude. I don’t mean to be critical. And I’m not knocking the support groups. I told a lot of people that if they want to go to spinal cord injury support groups, I’ll be their support group.

I always kept swimming. As soon as I could, I got back in the pool. It might have been 2007. [IM ABLE Foundation Founder/CEO] Chris Kaag was on the board of a Myelin group. He had to go to Italy for a meeting and he loaned me his handcycle. That’s when I discovered the early part of the Thun Trail. That’s when I started to see that there was bicycling for paras.

Then, a couple of years later in 2012, Chris was out push rim riding and Mike King was with him. I ran into them, they were on their push rims and I was on a handcycle. Push rims are what paras use for the run portion of a triathlon; I saw that and thought, “huh, maybe I can do triathlons again.” Chris put me on to Bike-On and they sold me my first push chair.

I started to do IM ABLE’s triathlons on a relay team with Kevin Moore, Mike Youse, and Jill Scheidt, then duathlons on my own. That was about 2010.

In 2016, there was a pivotal moment. I was with Kevin Moore at a PICPA (Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs) event. We had a social with the Berks County BAR association. Kevin had signed up to do Lake Placid Triathlon. It was a full length Ironman. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

There are about 170 Ironman races around the world and there’s only a few that are handcycle compatible. Some routes go off road, some are loops and get too crowded with runners and push chairs. I thought, “if Kevin can do Lake Placid, I can do it.” Then he got an injury, so I did it alone in 2017. The swim/bike cutoff is 10.5 hours and that’s a big cutoff for handcycles. The roads are closed for the race, and they have to open them back up at some point, so racers have to be off the course 10.5 hours after the start. Lake Placid climbs are steep like you wouldn’t believe. It’s nothing like here in Berks County. I finished the swim and bike about 45 minutes after the cutoff. DNF.

I wasn’t going to let that get the best of me. I hired a coach and my training got really specialized.

I entered Ironman Lake Placid again in 2018. I had a good swim, good bike, so I made the cutoff! Or so I thought. The timing chips register exact times as racers cross the start line and then at different intervals along the route. With so many participants and staggered starts, it’s hard to tell who is on time at the transition areas (where you transition from the swim to the bike and then later from the bike to the run, or the pushrim in my case), and who is late. So, I was actually seven minutes late, but they didn’t realize it until the official results came out the next morning. I crossed the finish line, but it ended up as another DNF.  But I was improving!

In 2019, I did the Cambridge, MD half Ironman. I was leading the race but double flatted. I was able to switch the first tire, but then hit another flat. I started to think I’d never finish an Ironman.

I had my sights set on doing the Ironman in Kona, Hawaii. But, you can’t just sign up for Kona, you have to earn one of the five slots. The winner from the prior year automatically qualifies. There are two slots out of Luxembourg. There’s one slot out of the Oceania Division which is Australia, New Zealand, and Asia Pacific.  Lubbock, Texas hosts the North American race where there’s only one spot to qualify for Kona in the handcycle division. You have to win to get to Kona. In 2019, I won the race in Lubbock and qualified for Kona!

My first race in Kona, I placed 4th out of four handcyclists. In my defense, I was 61 at the time. The next youngest guy was in his 40’s. It was a great feeling, getting to the finish line in that race.

Then Covid hit, and everything was cancelled. Texas wasn’t as strict as other places in the country, so the 2020 race was still on.  My plane tickets were cancelled. I really wanted to get back to Kona, so I drove. It took three days, and I was four hours from Lubbock when they made the decision to cancel the race. I was so down; I drove 22 hours straight back home.

In 2021, I’m back to Lubbock and won it again but the Kona Ironman was cancelled since many foreign athletes were still not allowed to travel to the US.

I got to training for Kona 2022. I was ready but it was incredibly hot so I never felt like I got into my groove. It was so humid, 90 – 95% humidity. The sun was out but it was still misty. It was like London in Sherlock Holmes movies by night time. I’m 10 miles into the pushrim “run” portion of the race and my gloves are slipping. They have rubber grips on them, the rims have a rubber coating on them that helps grip in normal conditions, but I kept slipping in the humidity. I took off my gloves but then the skin on my hands started getting raw. I pull in to this aide station looking for a dry towel. One woman yelled “I have a bunch of dry towels in my car!” She ran across the highway and grabbed me a towel. I used my teeth to tear it in half, wrapped them around my hands, and finished the race. My time was worse, but I finished.

Next, I’m signed up for Penn State 70.3 mile Ironman, the IM ABLE Got the Nerve? Triathlon and RU ABLE? Duathlon races are always on my calendar, and I’m going to try to qualify for the half Ironman World Championships. This is a lifestyle. On my days off, I’m still training.

If anyone reading this needs support, I want to be a resource for you. Please reach out to me and I’d be glad to talk with you. After almost 24 years since my  accident and many races, I can share what the para community is all about.

The Berks County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame states their number one goal as: “To honor outstanding local individuals and teams for their outstanding athletic contributions.” They chose Rodger Krause as their 2023 recipient of their “Inspiration Athletic Award” and honored him at their Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonial and Dinner at the DoubleTree in Reading, PA on Sunday, April 30, 2023.

Chris Kaag spoke to introduce Rodger at the event. “Rodger was 64 when he became the oldest person ever to compete in the handcycle division in the Ironman World Championship. I gave Rodger my handcycle in 2007 and now he can smoke my a**. It’s pretty impressive. He should be commended for his drive and his abilities that he has redefined constantly since his accident. I’d like to thank the Berks County Chapter of the PA Sports Hall of Fame committee for recognizing Rodger and people with disabilities for our commitment to excellence in the realm of sports!”

Laura Gingrich was inducted into the PA Sports Hall of Fame, Berks Chapter, in 2021 as Alvernia University’s winningest coach in field hockey history over her 22-year career. Gingrich serves on the planning committee for the Hall of Fame Ceremony, “The board discussed a few years ago, the thought of identifying an established Berks County program that gives back to the community, from an athletics or fitness category, whom we would like to support.  Being familiar with the IM ABLE Foundation, I made the suggestion that we have Chris talk with our board about what the IM ABLE Foundation is all about.  After that meeting, it was  unanimous decision that IM ABLE was the Foundation that what we wanted to support with, not only a financial donation, but to also recognize and honor a physically challenged Berks County athlete, who was “able” to overcome their challenges, and accomplish amazing feats in the competitive sporting or fitness world; someone who inspires others who are struggling with physical limitations to become active and get the competitive juices flowing.  Rodger was nominated as someone who went from competing in triathlons and then transitioning paratriathlon’s after suffering from injuries from a biking accident.  Rodger did not let his limitations stop him from competing in the sport he loves!” 

Our generous donors and volunteers made this possible and we can’t thank them enough.