The Watercraft Journal: Anthony, for those of our readers who might not be acquainted with you, can you please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Anthony Radetic: Nothing really special about who I am, just a former army helicopter pilot that was injured a little bit too soon in my career. I have always been an adrenaline seeker and a competitive guy. So being a soldier and a pilot was the best job in the world, never a dull moment to say the least. In 2004, while stationed in Ft. Rucker, I was injured and left paralyzed; making it very difficult to continue flying and serving my country in a wheelchair. Due to this abrupt life changing experience, I was forced to find a different form of profession to fill that void. I had to empower myself to find a new normal way of life that would make sense to me and my family.
That was my solution (my fix) and I chased it, trying to find that special connection in a sport that filled my need for adrenaline. After several years of participating on a pro level in several adaptive sports, I found the perfect fit for me. Personal watercraft racing, a sport full of excitement and heart pumping adrenaline. This sport definitely presented itself as a challenge and being a disabled athlete with a spinal cord injury made it even harder. I felt certain that put me on the bottom of the list being the forever underdog. Luckily I’ve had some phenomenal people on my side that believe in me and motivate my drive even more. This was the fuel that helped push myself and my team through many obstacles and eventually earning a spot as a pro rider on the Sea-Doo X-Team competing side by side with the top dogs in watercraft racing.
WCJ: Nothing special, huh? Not too many riders out there can say they can also pilot a helicopter. Could you tell us about some of those other sports you were doing and what led you to try watercraft racing?
AR: After my injury, it took me a while before I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I found great comfort in cycling, handcycling to be exact. This adaptive sport really allowed me to push myself. It was a good way to take out most of my day to day frustration and just ride for hours building up my cardio. I think this was and still is the greatest therapy, just one on one time with myself. An abundance of time to figure out, organize, and plan my life. It didn’t take me long to start hunting for marathons and at one point I was doing one marathon a month. But deep inside me there was still a hole, I felt like I was missing something crucial and it didn’t take me long to figure out it was the adrenaline rush that really gets me going.
In the military jumping out of planes was a easy remedy for that, so finding an adaptive sport that would do that was a little of a challenge. Eventually I was introduced to snow skiing on a mono ski at one of the military sport camps. Immediately I fell in love with the sport, and eventually made the US Development ski team and moved out to Aspen to train full time. This was a very tough life style, I had to sacrifice a lot of time away from home and being away from my family wasn’t conducive at all. So I continued my hunt for the perfect sport.
My wife knew my love for motorcycles was still haunting me and that I always wanted to get back on the saddle, on a regular bike without a side cart or a tricycle. So she had this great idea to try riding a PWC. I loved the idea and immediately reached out to one of my doctors to seek approval. To my surprise the doctor wouldn’t give me his blessing and told me it was extremely dangerous and unsafe considering my condition at the time. Obviously I ignored his recommendations and almost immediately went out and purchased a PWC off of Craigslist. This was it, the sport that gave me the true freedom and independence I was seeking with the added adrenaline dose. I truly felt normal, as if the water was the great equalizer to my injury.
At first glance no one could even tell that I’m disabled while riding, and that was a huge plus in my mind. Not long after I was approached by Shawn Alladio to participate in a Never Quit Challenge ride, a personal watercraft endurance ride from Key West-to-New York City. This is what started it all I was introduced to some of the great people in our industry like Mark Gerner, Ronny Mac, and Michelle Petro. I was truly bit by the watercraft racing bug and never looked back after that.
WCJ: As an “adaptive athlete,” what kind of limitation do you have while riding the jetski? Is it setup any different?
AR: Sure I have limitations, most of the great riders stand up while riding and really manipulate the ski with their feet, I still haven’t figured out how to do this. When racing closed course it’s very important to be able to switch sides to properly load the ski to enter and exit a corner. This is where I struggle and solely rely on my arms to pull and hold me in place since my injury level also affects my core control.
Absolutely my ski is setup very different from most riders, first I use a seat that was custom made just for me by SeatInserts and BlackTip JetSports. Second the handling of the ski has been balanced and adjust by Jesus Garcia from RIVA Racing in a way where the slightest body movement the ski reacts to my riding style. This has taken a long time to achieve but now that we have it dialed in, it’s absolutely amazing and a game changer.
WCJ: With all that stress on your arms and core you must have a pretty interesting and intense workout routine. Would you mind giving us some insight into what takes place when you’re training and if you have any prerace rituals.
AR: There is no secret to it; I do put in a lot of work each day. With good reason, I need to work twice as hard to be even close to the rest of the pack. My typical week consist of 6 days of cardio workout with my handcycle. Spending about 1.5 to 3 hours just cycling, after that I follow up with a SOFLETE training program that was tailored just for me and my unique situation for 3-to-4 times a week. The crew at SOFLETE builds and tailors each workout session for our nation’s finest warriors and athletes, absolutely phenomenal workout programs. To wrap up, on my off days, I normally visit my rehab and massage therapists to recover and address any issues I might have.
My pre-race and post-race ritual consists of SOFLETE nutrition and my massage therapist, Blythin Leggett, taping me up for the competition. She usually comes to all the races and she is an absolute life saver with RockTape. Most of the racers know her and know how valuable of a member she is to the RAD team.
WCJ: You’ve overcome quite a bit since your accident, is there any advice you would give a reader that could be facing the same obstacles or a life changing injury?
AR: I think you have to see the big picture always. It’s not about the obstacles or the life changing injury; it’s about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It’s about embracing the pain that you’ll experience at the end of a race or a marathon and not being afraid. I think people think too hard and get afraid of a certain challenges that hold them back from things that might truly empower them or make them happy.
WCJ: What do you have planned for the 2018 season?
AR: 2018 is going to be a action packed year for me. Starting off with the annual Mark Hahn 300 race in Lake Havasu where I’m defending my Iron Man title. [This interview was conducted 2 weeks ago – Ed.] After that we settle in for five rounds of the bone crushing P1 AquaX Pro class in the US and the intense six rounds of the UIM Aquabike GP1 class in Italy, China, and UAE. Finishing off the year with the traditional IJSBA world finals in Arizona and premiere Kings Cup in Thailand.
WCJ: On behalf of The Watercraft Journal and the readers I’d like to say thank you for your service and for giving us some insight on what it’s like to be an adaptive athlete. I can see that you have had quite the team helping you get to where you are, is there anyone you would like to thank?
AR: There are so many people that I owe a huge amount of gratitude for getting me where I am. But the ones that have been by my side and made it their own personal mission to watch my 6 is definitely my awesome RAD team. Which consists of volunteer’s from SOF Bionic Warriors, Operation Second Chance, and Road Warriors. My outstanding sponsors that continue to believe in me, allow me to represent them and their values. Sea-Doo, SOFLETE, rip it, Watercraft Superstore, BlackTip, JetLift, Jet Renu, RockTape, RIVA Racing, Fly Racing, Jet Pilot, Abaco, Fixate design, Más Awesomer, Works H2O, and AquaNew.
It has always been an absolute humbling experience to be involved with this phenomenal group of people and a life changing journey. My motivation and strength is my wife and kids; they are my world and I hope that one day I can make them all proud of what I have achieved.