Emily Harvey is a disability-rights lawyer, a nonprofit founder -- and a top paratriathlete
As a child, Emily Harvey played soccer, T-ball and volleyball, rode horses and bikes and climbed trees. She was always outside, always in motion.
Harvey, a paratriathlete and attorney in Denver, gives credit to her parents and one particular grandfather for the attitude that pushed her to sample life's adventures. "In my family, you've got to keep up," she says, laughing. "My grandpa was a two-star general in the Army and has been inducted into the hall of fame for wrestling in Iowa, so he's been a go-getter. He's passed that along to my mom and me."
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Leuer, in fact, was an undefeated NCAA wrestling champion at Iowa in 1956 and commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment. His daughter, Sheryl Damron, is an early-childhood specialist who encouraged young Emily and her siblings to stretch beyond their comfort zones.
As an adult, that has included multiple triathlons for Harvey -- including two half Ironman races -- skiing, golf, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving and running (she has done several half-marathons). She's signed up to do her first full Ironman in 2018: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
Certainly, she is keeping up. "My parents were definitely understanding if I had a legitimate issue related to my leg, but they didn't just let me use it as an excuse," she says.
Harvey was born without a fibula in her left leg. That leg also was significantly shorter than her right leg. So, at age 2, a portion of that limb below the knee was amputated. It happened at such a young age that Harvey accepted her condition -- and prosthesis -- immediately.
Her first prosthetic foot was "a piece of wood wrapped in rubber" that provided little in the way of energy return -- the spring we take for granted from our natural legs and feet. "I didn't know any different, so I just kind of made do," Harvey says.
When she was 8 or 9, she discovered riding, and horses quickly usurped all other sports. She loved show jumping and competed in dressage for Virginia Intermont College. Then came law school at George Mason and the University of Denver, where she had little time for sports.
But she had always been intrigued by triathlon because of an aunt who completed two Ironman World Championship races in Kona, Hawaii, in the 1980s. Her husband, Zach, also was a triathlete when they first met.
"When I finished law school I said, 'My next thing is going to be triathlons,'" she recalls. She had acquired a running leg in 2013 but didn't have a proper bike or much of a swimming background. When she attended a Challenged Athletes Foundation swimming clinic, she intended to swim for an hour but stayed in the pool for two. She loved it. Now the swim is the strongest portion of her tri talents.
She did her first triathlon, a sprint-distance race (half-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike, 3.1-mile run), in Aurora, Colorado, in 2014. Her goal was simply to finish. She was hooked. "Triathlon gives me an outlet for my competitive energy," she says. "I like having an outlet to challenge myself and compete against myself, just trying to be better every day."
In 2016, she completed her most difficult test, the Half Ironman in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in 7 hours, 32 minutes, 34 seconds, good for first in the physically challenged division.
"I finished well under the cutoff time, and the pros, when they got their awards, even said how hard the course was that day," she says. The bike route was hilly and winds were strong. "I came across the finish line and just got really emotional."
There's a lot of negativity in the world and all I can do is try to make a positive impact on the people I come in direct contact with. That's really what I try to do in everything.Emily Harvey
Being a triathlete with a prosthesis does have its extra challenges, of course. She can't log as many hours running as others because of the wear on her residual limb. On race day, hydration and nutrition are even more important because as an amputee she burns more calories because of the mechanics of movement, and she can overheat. She also has less body surface area for heat to escape, with no foot and part of her leg covered by the prosthesis.
And, she has to take extra time in transition zones to change legs.
She finds it funny that she thought triathlon would be a better sport for her than road running because the run distances (in sprint or Olympic-distance races) would be shorter than half-marathons or marathons and kinder on her residual limb. Now she's hooked on the longer triathlons with 13.1- or 26.2-mile runs.
"I've built right back up to the longest of those," she says, laughing.
Now that she has signed up to do the full-distance Ironman Boulder in June, Harvey will have to train more than ever. She's already working out six to seven days per week, but that will ramp up to include two sessions a day -- before and after work -- at times. Fortunately, her job as an attorney for the nonprofit Disability Law Colorado, is normally a 40-hour work week -- not the 80-hour load some attorneys at private firms put in, so she can carve out time. And, because Zach also is training for the same race, they often bike together.
"I love the process of training," she says. "I love having a schedule every week and having the sense of accomplishment once I get the training session done for the day. I mean, really, the racing is just the reward for all the training."
In fact, she craves having a full schedule every day, so the extra training for Boulder fits that need.
"If I'm not busy then I end up committing to other things," she says. "Last year I was just doing a half Ironman -- I had already done one -- and I decided to go back to school and pursue a certificate in nonprofit management."
That is her other passion -- helping others who have lost limbs. She started a nonprofit called LIM359 in 2013, which stands for "Living in Motion for 359 days a year" with the joke that everyone needs six days off to rest. It provides opportunities for people with limb loss or limb difference to try new things -- Scuba, hiking, skiing and climbing, for instance, as well as a youth camp -- in a comfortable and safe environment. Her legal work fits into that, too. She's the intake team leader for Disability Law Colorado and manages new cases. She also is part of the organization's education and access teams, doing work focused on housing and employment discrimination and student disability issues.
"There's a lot of negativity in the world and all I can do is try to make a positive impact on the people I come in direct contact with," she says. "That's really what I try to do in everything."
Including triathlon. Simply by competing, she raises awareness for athletes with disabilities. She gets constant positive feedback from participants and spectators at triathlons. She always has felt that being an amputee has been a positive thing in her life, not a negative. Even as a girl with her first prosthetics, she simply did what everybody else did.
"It's given me a way to connect with people and given me this platform to try to effect positive change," she says.