While the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 are in the books, Davis & Elkins College Head Triathlon Coach Chris Hammer is on the verge of taking his shot at making history in the Tokyo Paralympics.
Hammer is among 17 athletes who will represent the United States on the Paralympic Triathlon Team. Triathletes will cover a 750m swim, non-drafting 20km bike and 5km run at Tokyo’s Odaiba Marine Park, the same venue as the Olympic triathlon competitions. The competition is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 28. Davis & Elkins College students will cheer on Hammer during private dorm watch parties.
“We are all very excited to cheer on Coach Hammer,” said Davis & Elkins Director of Athletics Patrick Snively. “Chris is not only an inspiration to his family and friends, but also to the student-athletes he impacts daily, his campus and Elkins communities, individuals with disabilities, and in fact, the entire nation as he represents the United States so proudly on the world stage. He has already achieved so much to make it to this point, but we hope that he draws additional inspiration knowing so many back home are cheering him on and excited for his success.”
In preparation for competition, Hammer worked with his personal coach Wes Johnson while continuing his own coaching duties at D&E. This summer, he traveled to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. There, he spent about a month training in a simulated environment chamber with varying degrees of humidity, temperature and other weather-related conditions. Then it was on to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a 10-day pre-team camp.
“Everything is going pretty well and it’s a lot of fun obviously, but it’s not a typical Hawaii vacation,” Hammer said. “We’re swimming, biking and running every single day, attending meetings, doing paperwork and having to take COVID tests. I’m also doing the administrative work for the D&E team from afar.”
On campus, Hammer’s wife, Amy, remains on board as assistant coach of the triathlon team and works as a physical therapist at Elkins Physical Therapy Service. Amy and the Hammers’ daughters, ages 4 and 6, are looking forward to watching the competition and plan a private party at their home with D&E triathlon teammates.
“Chris said he hasn’t been this excited about a race in a long time,” Amy Hammer said.
The U.S. Triathlon team arrived in Tokyo early this week and Hammer expected they will remain in a controlled environment due to COVID restrictions. As the competition draws near, he says he knows he’s fit and plans to give the competition his best shot.
“It’s events like these that are years in the making and now that it’s finally coming up it’s very exciting,” Hammer said. “You put so much time and effort into it for so long that it’s just like just a dream on the horizon that’s now becoming reality.”
Knowing that his student-athletes, family and campus community will following the games carries a special meaning.
“It’s pretty cool because the last time I competed in the Paralympics in 20 16 I had a much smaller community of support,” Hammer said. “It’s been really amazing to have the support of the community and the College and have people interested in what I’m doing. This is new to me to have so many people really supporting me and caring about how it goes. A lot of times when you’re training, you feel kind of alone because you’re out there running by yourself, biking by yourself. It’s just really humbling to know other people are following along and it just gives me more pride in what I do. So, I want to say thanks for that.”
Born with one hand due to a congenital condition, Hammer never let his impairment impact his ability to compete in athletics while growing up and in college. After earning his bachelor’s degree, Hammer joined the U.S. Paralympics Track & Field Team, where he was able to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the 1,500-meters and the marathon. In 2013, he decided to try out a new sport: triathlon. Despite not having a training background in swimming or biking, two of the three elements of a triathlon race, he felt his long-distance running success would translate.
Since then, he has no regrets in his decision to branch out into triathlon. Competing on the USA Paratriathlon National Team, Hammer was a bronze medalist at the ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in 2014, 2017 and 2019.
He also competed as a Paralympian in the last two Olympics, held in London in 2012 and Rio in 2016, and has 23 ITU Paratriathlon international event podium finishes in 31 total races, including 10 first-place finishes.