Hector Picard says he believes that life is a gift, and he isn’t wasting any of it.
The 46-year-old Fort Lauderdale man has done 59 triathlons since 2009.
On Saturday Picard – who had both of his arms amputated in 1992 – is taking on a new challenge, when he competes in the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York City. It is his first full Ironman competition.
“And I’m just excited for the opportunity to be the first double-arm amputee to start and finish an Ironman race,” Picard said.
He uses a prosthetic arm during transitions between one leg of the race to the next, but not when he is swimming, biking or running. During his last prosthetic follow-up appointment before the Ironman on Monday at the Hanger Clinic in Tamarac, Picard said he wants to make sure that the hand he controls is working 100 percent.
“It’s important that during the race as I’m changing my gear and all that, that the hand doesn’t malfunction. And it’s working great,” he said.
A little over 20 years ago, Picard was involved in a work-related electrical accident. He said he received 13,000 volts of electricity twice – one through his right arm and out his right foot, and one through his left arm and out his left hip.
He was in a coma for four weeks, and his entire right arm and half of his left arm were amputated.
“From that point on, I never quit. I had a one-year-old daughter, and decided to continue living, and living it to the fullest,” Picard said.
He said he didn’t give up because of his daughter. He and his wife, who had been married for about a year and a half at the time, had their second daughter a year after the accident, he said.
“There (were) no excuses. I had to continue living. And they kept me busy. They were hands-on, you know?” he said with a smile. “So I did the best I can as a father and a husband and raised them. And right now one of them blessed me with a grandchild. So that’s the reason why I’m here.”
With prosthetics, physical therapy and hard work, Picard learned to do everyday tasks such as buttoning his shirt and brushing his hair, and helped to take care of his children.
Picard, who is a motivational speaker, took up triathlons in 2009 – and admits he can’t get enough of them.
“I’m hooked, man. It’s an addiction,” he said, adding that he gets an amazing response. “You get people in the middle of a race that come up to me and say ‘I’m finishing this race because I saw you finish this race.’ And that’s great. That’s why I do it.”
His Hanger Clinic prosthetist Matthew Klein explained that Picard has some residual scar tissue from the burns of his accident, so “skin integrity is very important – making sure there’s no shear forces that’s going to cause any kind of skin irritation, blistering, or in the worst case, ulcerations.”
They always want to make sure that the socket is fitting properly and that Picard has good suspension with his prosthetic left arm, so he can pick up something heavy and not have the prosthesis fall off, Klein said.
Picard uses the muscles in his forearm to control the prosthetic hand and to rotate the wrist, Klein said.
He will be in New York this weekend cheering on Picard, who will be wearing bib number 114 in the Ironman.
“Hector is truly an inspiration to us here at Hanger Clinic,” Klein said. “We take care of so many people, but he really stands out as someone that has overcome so much in his lifetime and continues just to take on one hurdle after the next, and competing in this Ironman this week is just tremendous. Unbelievable.”
Picard’s accomplishments include cycling 1,500 miles in 17 days from Fort Lauderdale to New York earlier this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of what he refers to as a second chance at life.
On Saturday he is aiming to finish the race in 14½ hours – but if he doesn’t meet that he definitely wants to finish within 15 hours, so he can hear his name on the public address system when he crosses the line.
“You only have one shot,” Picard said of life. “I was fortunate enough I had a second chance, thanks to the modern technology and everything that’s out there, the prosthetics, I’m able to live a normal life, if not beyond normal.”
For more information on Picard, see his website, dontstopliving.org.