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Latrobe native swimming for Paralympic dream despite obstacles

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By Ed Phillipps
Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Losing a spot on an Olympic team would signify the beginning of the end of most athletes' careers.

For Latrobe resident Cody Bureau, it's merely looked at as a valley before another peak. After all, the 25-year-old is used to overcoming obstacles.

Bureau lost his left hand in a farming accident when he was 8. Since then he has appeared in three consecutive Paralympics and has held numerous Pan-American swimming records. He still holds records in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly (1:02.21 and 2:23.36, respectively), as well as the 200 intermediate medley (2:20.21). Each record was set in 2008.

But at the International Paralympic Committee World Championships held in Montreal earlier this month, Bureau's best individual finish was seventh place in the 100 backstroke. He was then notified by Team USA that his finishes were not good enough to keep his spot on the team.

That won't be enough of a deterrent to stop him.

Bureau still has the same goal in mind to make it to Rio for the 2016 games and medal.

“You're never at the dead end of a maze,” he said. “There's always another way, another option.”

Bureau's enthusiasm is infectious and his optimism endless. Those qualities helped him become a great swimmer, and he is relying on them to help him return to his former glory.

Upon returning, he quickly realized that much of what he was doing at the Olympic training facility in Colorado could be done at home. While the local gyms and high schools he trains at are not exactly specialized in dealing with disabled athletes, he makes do just fine.

For example, he is able to lift weights by using a dumbbell in his right hand and a close-handled kettle bell in his prosthetic left, which doesn't have the grip strength needed to grasp a dumbbell. He said those nuances in training are easy to work around no matter the location.

However, Bureau lamented he will miss the atmosphere and the other athletes he grew close to during his stay.

“I was kind of a little bit heartbroken,” he said of hearing he would no longer be on Team USA. “I had friends who were like family.”

Stepping in to fill the void is a member of his own family, younger brother Lucas. He is a sophomore swimmer at Virginia Tech who was one of only three freshmen to make the Atlantic Coast Conference team last season. At the ACC championships, he set a school record in the 200 freestyle (1:36.68).

The brothers recently began working out together, and Cody instantly felt the push and competitive drive that only a brother can fuel.

“Lucas is going to be one of those people that says ‘You're not disabled, you have to do this,' ” said Cody, who is in the early stages of planning a move to Blacksburg, Va. to be closer to his brother. “He's one of the people I admire the most. His words mean more than other people's.”

Lucas has noticed his elder brother taking to his mentality.

“I hate to lose more than I love to win,” Lucas said. “He's taken that to his mindset. He wants to be the best he can be.”

Cody already has proven his best is world class. Now Lucas wants to do the same. While the next Olympics are still a few years away, it's not too early to start setting goals. At the top of that list is Rio to finalize the comeback of Cody ... and Lucas' arrival.

“For two members of the same family to be competing at the (Olympic) level would be extremely humbling,” Lucas said. “Words can't really describe it.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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