Garden of Life Para-Athlete Jacob Sharff Completes Ironman Florida

In 1999, at the age of 16, I was involved in a horrible car accident which left me paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair. As an avid athlete before my accident, I did not let paralysis keep me from competition.  I compete in sprint para-triathlons on an international level, representing Team USA.  I hope to make the USA Paralympic triathlon team in Rio, Brazil 2016.

Being an adaptive athlete takes an extra toll on my body and that’s why it’s crucial for me to feed my body with the best organic supplements and nutrition available. Garden of Life has been the only brand that provides the results my body needs.  I take the RAW Protein and RAW Meal replacement supplements on a daily basis. I knew this stuff was the real deal after the first month of use. Throughout 2015, my body has never felt so good. That’s why I decided to push my limits earlier this month.

On November 7, I competed in Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach. This is a full Ironman triathlon which consists of a 2.5 mile ocean swim,112 mile cycle, and 26.2 mile full marathon run.

For the 2.5 mile ocean swim, I use an adaptive ankle strap to keep my ankles together and De Soto T1 wet suit pants. The ankle strap keeps my legs from swaying all over the place and the wet suit pants keep my legs from sinking.  Basically, I swim with my upper body only. For the 112 mile cycle, I use a Top End Force-RX hand-cycle. For the 26.2 mile run, I use a Top End racing wheelchair. The run is the only part of the triathlon where I may have an advantage, as the racing wheelchair can cruise at a faster pace than the average runner.  Of 3,200 plus athletes racing the event, I was 1 of 2 wheelchair/hand-cycle adaptive athletes.

I woke up at 4:00AM the morning of the race for my division start at 6:25AM.  Normally I would have eaten breakfast filled with carbs, but not that morning. Instead, I was nauseous and did not eat anything, which is not a good start to a 13-plus hour race day!   Minutes before the race started I hopped out of my wheelchair and sat down on the beach where the sand and ocean water meet.   The siren booms and Ironman Florida has begun!  Swimming out past the breaking waves was much harder than I had anticipated. After a 2.5 mile (3,800 meter) ocean swim, I exited the water after 1 hour 30 minutes. I also spent an additional 12 minutes 46 seconds in T1 (transition area) rinsing off the ocean water and changing into dry clothes.

The next portion of Ironman triathlon was the 112 mile hand-cycle portion. For me, this is without a doubt the longest and toughest part of any triathlon. Although the Florida roads were nice and smooth, the route home had a slight incline for most of the way. This resulted in a much slower ride back to the transition area.

For the first half of the hand-cycle portion I felt strong, holding an average of 17.1 mph for 56 miles. At the half-way point I took a two minute break to eat something and absorb some nutrition. The remaining 56 miles were significantly harder than the first. My arm and shoulder muscles started to cramp and tighten up.  At mile 100 I was almost 100% gassed yet so excited to be only 12 miles away from completing the hand-cycle portion.  Those last 12 miles seemed to take forever, yet the very last mile of the hand-cycle portion it was like I had a shot of energy flood through my body. In that moment, my muscles were rejuvenated and my stamina was strong again. It’s called a “runner’s high”, and it’s a beautiful feeling. In total, it took me 7 hours 21 minutes to complete the 112 mile hand-cycle portion.

After the 112 mile hand-cycle ride, it was onto the 26.2 mile marathon “run”, which is the final portion of the Ironman triathlon. Since I’m confined to a wheelchair, the“run” is done using a racing wheelchair.

Ten hours into the race, my arms were falling apart. I had to stop multiple times for food/soda/nutrition during the 26.2 mile run because I felt like I was going to pass out.  To make things worse, my racing wheelchair gloves had gotten wet, which means the grip was gone when pushing the push rims. Since I was already in zombie mode, I just took the gloves off and finished the marathon run with bare hands.

With 1 mile remaining in the Ironman I was completely gassed. My arm muscles were cramping and my fingers were hyper-extending involuntarily. Yet again, as I got closer to the finish-line something came over me. People were in the streets cheering for all the athletes, and the moment became very real and emotional. Once again, I had found the strength during this final mile which I thought would be impossible to obtain. Once again, I was flying toward the finish-line on the best high I’ve ever had-a runner’s high!  I completed the marathon portion of Ironman in 3 hours and 57 minutes.
The experience was amazing. I really want to thank Garden of Life for all their unconditional support throughout the 2015 triathlon race season. Garden of Life supplies me with the absolute best organic nutritional supplements on the market. Without their help, I would surely be unable to compete in an Ironman.

From start to finish, Ironman Florida 2015 took me a total of 13 hours 16 minutes. I encourage everyone to try something that makes them nervous and/or scared. Overcoming your fears is priceless, and infinitely empowering. Please email me at if you or someone you know may be interested in participating in an Ironman triathlon.
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