SAN DIEGO -- The Ironman 70.3 returns to Oceanside tomorrow -- and so do some familiar faces. The Challenged Athletes Foundation has 13 veterans in the race as part of their Operation Rebound program and two of their competitors are local.
Their motto reads, "From the front line to the finish line," and that's exactly what veterans in the Challenged Athletes Foundation: Operation Rebound program are accomplishing.
"That's what its all about, empowering through sports," said Nico Marcolongo, CAF's Operation Rebound manager. "So it's not necessarily about winning a race. It's about empowering an individual to excel in life, through sports."
One of those individuals is San Diego resident Scott Leason who served seven years in the Navy. On July 4th, 1993, while working at a convenience store, he was shot in the head during a robbery.
"The bullet entered the left temple and went clean through, severed the left optic nerve, destroyed my olfactory nerves and destroyed the right eye," said Leason, a blind CAF athlete.
But Leason didn't let his disability stop him from what he missed most -- water skiing.
"I'm on the line just like anybody else and I don't feel blind anymore," said Leason.
In 2006, he started skiing once again and along the way, he also adapted to surfing and wake boarding completely blind.
"Like I said, never lose sight of your goals and dreams," said Leason. "Well, I've achieved a bunch of goals and dreams that I never even had in my dream bucket."
"I see a lot of courage, I see a lot of determination and I see somebody who looks outside themselves,"said Marcolongo. "And again, wants to do it for the team and set that example for the next person who might be going through some sort of trial."
Marine Corps Reservist Lance Weir knows all about trial. After shattering his C5 vertebrae, he became a quadriplegic and didn't think he'd ever find a sport he could compete in -- until air rifles.
"It was something I was good at when I was in the Marine Corps so I wasn't surprised that I did well," said Weir. The Carlsbad resident became one of the most successful air rifleman in program history before he transited into coaching.
"You know its enriched my life," said Weir. "I've gotten to go places and see things that I probably wouldn't have had a chance to do. I got to meet people I probably wouldn't have met and I gained a family."
Along with 11 other veterans, both Leason and Weir will participate in the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. Leason will run as part of a relay team while Weir plans to compete on an adaptive tandem hand cycle. These veterans say that crossing the finish line in the Iroman or any competition is simply a bonus in the grand scheme of life.
"I also take the responsibility seriously enough to keep it up, train hard and I am proud of the fact that I inspire not only the visually impaired but the general public too," said Leason. "I'm so grateful. Without Challenged Athletes Foundation, I don't know where I'd be and like i said, never lose of your goals and dreams."
Words of wisdom spoken like a true champion.