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Triathlete overcomes Army accident

Published: Thursday, Sept. 22 2011 10:40 p.m. MDT

TreyGarman/Xterra

OGDEN — Life in the Army National Guard took Craig Vogtsberger away from the sport he loved.

Nearly losing his life in an accident helped him find his way back to triathlons, where he has become a living example to other injured veterans about what's possible for them.

Ten years ago, Vogtsberger was just finishing a four-day intensive training exercise when he walked between two Army Humvees. The two vehicles collided, crushing Vogtsberger between them just days before he was to be deployed in the Middle East.

"I have memories of little parts," said Vogtsberger, who will compete in the XTERRA U.S. Championships in the Ogden Valley Saturday along with about 830 others, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who is returning to triathlon competition after more than 20 years away from the sport. "The driver was backing up and he hit the gas when he should have hit the brake. I remember looking up and seeing them look at me. He was trying to figure out what happened. … They knew I was there, but it took a few seconds for them to come to terms with what had happened and move the Humvee and get me out of there."

Vogtsberger suffered massive trauma to his entire body. Among his injuries: a traumatic brain injury; spinal trauma (to all three sections); dysautonomia, which is an insufficiency of the nervous system; paralyzed in the left leg and left shoulder; visually impaired; partial hearing loss.

He stops, "And these are just the highlights."

At the time he was cycling and in pretty good shape. Still the damage his body suffered took him years to overcome.

"The accident was in 2001, and I wasn't able to get back to training or exercising until 2006," he said. "It took a long time to diagnose some problems because the symptoms were overlapping."

In fact, doctors are still diagnosing problems for Vogtsberger, who takes the new issues in stride.

"I've been getting worse," he said. "With my left shoulder, I could use it in April, but somewhere between April and July, I just lost the use of it."

Vogtsberger has always worn a brace on his left leg, which is clipped in, but does none of the work required to power him mountains on XTERRA courses. He just started wearing a brace on his left arm in July and said he still has enough strength to grip the handle bar but not withstand a jarring bump. He admits to more than a few wrecks.

Still, he is nothing but grateful that he is still able to compete in the sport he loves.

"Someone asked me earlier this year about when did I think 'Why me?'" he said. "I never did. I sat there and said, 'Okay these are my limitations, what can I do.' And then I go out and do it."

He said he fell in love with duathlons and triathlons in high school and college and never lost his passion for the sport, even when college and his military commitments made it difficult to train or compete.

"I love triathlons," he said, admitting more than a few people have suggested he find a more sedentary hobby. "I think it's just who I am. It's my way of life. I don't see myself stopping."

He does road triathlons, but prefers the off-road XTERRAs.

"I think I like the challenge," he said laughing at the idea of needing more challenges in his life. "I go and talk with wounded veterans and try to help them get into the sport."

He said most veterans have trouble coming up with excuses when he lists the litany of problems he deals with (including swimming with one arm and one leg) to compete.

Like most other XTERRA athletes, Vogtsberger said he's excited to race alongside Armstrong.

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