Double amputee’s inventiveness allows him to become a triathlete

Hector Picard prepares to put on a helmet ahead of the bike segment during a race earlier this year. Picard, a resident of Pompano Beach, will be competing Saturday in the Tri Siesta Key in Sarasota.
Hector Picard prepares to put on a helmet ahead of the bike segment during a race earlier this year. Picard, a resident of Pompano Beach, will be competing Saturday in the Tri Siesta Key in Sarasota. Photo provided

The bike Hector Picard has crafted may be his finest and most important contraption yet. With a brake on the frame, a cylinder to steer and a gear-shifter on his chin, the jigsaw puzzle of a bicycle has been crafted just about the only way it could work for him.

Picard, a double-arm amputee, has become something of an inventor during the nearly 15 years since an electrical accident cost him nearly all of his right arm and about half of his left. To help coach his daughter’s youth softball team, he fashioned a prosthesis to let him use a bat and play catch. He likes to play basketball, so he invented the HP Hoopster, an on-the-market prosthetic that uses a ring to simulate the way a hand grips a basketball to shoot.

“You can find everything on YouTube,” Picard said Friday, a day before arriving in Sarasota for Saturday’s Tri Siesta Key.

The bike, which lets him participate in the previously impossible third leg of triathlons, is what has made him a celebrity in the triathlon world, capable of raising tens of thousands of dollars a year. He has run more than 100 triathlons and will try to become the first double amputee to complete the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii this October.

On Saturday at 7 a.m., though, he’ll swim nearly a mile off the coast of Siesta Key, bike 25 miles and run another 6.2. He’ll wear the picture of children from the Broward Children’s Center North, which is located in his hometown of Pompano Beach, and plans to present the medal he earns as a finisher to a patient at the center for those with special needs and disabilities. The run is part of his #RacingForTrueChampions campaign, which he hopes will raise $50,000 by the end of the year.

“I attract attention to myself no matter what,” Picard said. “I ride my bike down the street and people stare at me. I thought, Let’s do something.”

Now he primarily works as a motivational speaker and competes as a sponsored racer.

His story begins in 1992 when he was working as an electrician in Hollywood. He touched a live wire with his right hand and 13,000 volts of electricity surged through his body. The jolt blew him off the platform and as he flew his other arm touched the wire, sending another surge through his body.

By the time he hit the ground, he was on fire. He spent the next month in a coma, and doctors were forced to amputate virtually all of his right arm (leaving only a shoulder-joint stump) and the majority of his left (to just above the elbow) because of the burns sustained.

He did not start competing in triathlons until 2009, when he was in the final stages of a divorce he describes as “messy.” He began running, swimming and cycling as a form of therapy.

“I wasn’t a swimmer, wasn’t a cycler and hated running,” Picard said.

But it let him flex his innovation skills and athletic gifts. Running was simple enough, and he’d figured out how to swim over the years — he flips to his back and kicks like a breaststroke swimmer. The bike has become his masterpiece.

He sticks what’s left of his left arm into a cylinder attached to the handlebars to steer. He uses his right shoulder to press a brake on the side of the frame. He shifts gears with his chin using a device protruding up from the handlebar. He sips water through a straw.

And now he does it all to raise money. Novation Settlement Solutions, a structured-settlement buyer in West Palm Beach, helped Picard financially during his divorce and lets the 50-year-old compete while raising money for charity.

He embraces his position as a role model for the disabled children who watch him compete, and he’s not just a physical marvel, but a ingenious one, as well.

“Not having hands,” Picard said, “I still had the mental capacity.”

David Wilson: 941-745-7057, @DBWilson2

If you go

What: Tri Siesta Key

When: Saturday, 7 a.m.

Where: Siesta Key Beach