Triathlons forge nurse-patient bond

Despite her lack of fitness, she was determined to do the race because she was inspired by Patrick's spirit. He stayed upbeat, threw himself into physical training and was determined to get better. In his training, Patrick often focuses on moving his limbs. To an outsider, nothing's happening. But he always works at it.

"The only thing that's in his control is how hard he is going to try to do today the things that he can't do," she says. "And that's it. And I thought, 'Look at what I have in my life that I can control, and the choices I can make.'"

The races

For her first tri in 2012, Harte wore a navy blue T-shirt with "Just Doing It" in pink lettering. Friends and family wore matching shirts that year to cheer her on. Though she struggled, she heard the race announcers calling her name and saw the crowd cheering as she approached the finish.

"I was crying, like, 'Why are they making such a big deal about me when these Olympic athletes are flying by me?'" she says.

Patrick at the time was in Baltimore at the Kennedy Krieger Institute for therapy, but his mother was there.

"The crowd went wild for her," Colleen recalls. "I've never seen anything like it. And she is the funniest person I've ever met. She goes, 'All you have to do is be obese and they love you in this thing!'"

Harte raised $10,000 for Patrick's care in that race.

Last year, Harte was much better in the transition areas, not wasting the time she did the year before. As she neared the end of the race, she spotted Patrick, Colleen and his father, Nick, with friends and family, all wearing the "Just Doing It" shirts, this time with green lettering. She veered off course and gave Patrick a hug and kiss.

"As soon as I came up to him, he just burst out laughing," she recalls. "He was smiling. I know he [came out] for me."

As Harte then headed toward the finish, Nick pushed Patrick in his wheelchair alongside her, before Harte took over. They crossed the line together. Scott Hutmacher, regional marketing manager for Life Time Athletic Events, which put on the race, heard the cheers as they approached and watched the finish. He says it was a moment "so impromptu that it was perfect."

"I'd almost say there wasn't a dry eye in the house," he says. "It was pretty powerful."

Patrick, however, won't admit to being impressed.

"I was shocked, and I wanted to take her blood pressure," he says of the moment. "I was too concerned about her to think about crossing the finish line."

Now comes her third race, and this time Harte is training more seriously under Bordeleau, an endurance athlete and owner of Precision Multisport in Chicago who often trains elite athletes. For four months she's been lifting weights, doing resistance work and taking on various torture machines and drills.

"She's such a hoot, because I'll have her do something and she'll look at me, 'I can't do that,'" Bordeleau says. "I say, 'Try it,' and she does it, and she's, 'Oh my god, get it on video!' We've videotaped her doing so many things she thought she would never do."

Just recently, she learned to stand up on her pedals while cycling. That alone should help her time in the race. In past races, she'd have to get off the bike because she lost feeling while sitting. Now she can keep pedaling.

"I have not been able to do that because I just have not had the strength to pull my big ass up and balance myself on the pedals," she says. "This is a huge help."

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