RIDGEFIELD, Conn. -- At the age of 50, Ridgefield athlete Robin Caruso is a five-time national champion in the sport of triathlon and holds two world titles. Yet she has difficulty getting dressed in the morning.
Caruso, who is a married mother of three sons, is a para-athlete. In 2007, she was involved in a bicycling accident and lost the use of her right arm.
Having been an athlete her entire life -- in gymnastics, swimming and triathlon -- her disability didn't slow her down. She now competes as a T-4 para-triathlete, which includes athletes with arm and leg impairments such as paralysis and amputations.
She holds five national titles in para-triathlon and two world titles in para-duathlon. She will soon begin training for the San Diego Triathlon Challenge, which will be Oct. 23 in La Jolla Cove, Calif.
The accident happened when a deliveryman turned into her as she was riding her bike in Wilton on Route 37. Her accident caused a brachial plexus injury, which occurs when the nerves that send signals from the spine to the shoulder, arm and hand are pulled out of the spine.
"My right arm was my dominant arm. My twins were 2 at the time of my accident, and I had to learn how to do many things for them -- including diapering them -- with one arm," she said. "You don't realize how much you use your arms until something happens to take that away."
While learning how to swim and bike with one arm were difficult, Caruso said learning to run with one arm was the most challenging. "Since I had no control over my arm, it would flail around while I was running. A friend with a similar injury to mine invented a special sling made with heavy duty fabric that held my arm in place, strapped to my body. I have used this sling in all my competitions," she said.
Aside from running, swimming and biking with one arm, she has since learned to ski, using only one pole. "Its a great family activity," she said.
Although several surgeries have improved the functioning of her arm, she still suffers from bouts of pain, numbness and tingling on a daily basis.
To prepare for the San Diego Triathlon Challenge, Caruso will soon double her weekly fitness routine to about 10 to 12 hours of exercise per week.
Caruso said she has always been a positive person and her accident hasn't changed her attitude. "Whenever people come over to me and ask me why I do triathlons, I say, 'Because I can.'"