ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., (April 27, 2022)
Greg Simony, lean and well-tanned, sat on a bench by the edge of Tampa Bay on a recent afternoon talking about a low point in his life 12 years ago.
“I was really trying to find my way,” he said. “I was fat. I was a drinker. But I discovered I could help myself by helping others.”
In fact, Simony wound up doing both, getting his life on a steady course by assisting people with a wide range of disabilities on a triathlon course.
In 2010, with no prior experience, he signed up and trained for a Half Ironman: a grueling 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running, simply to prove – mostly to himself – he could achieve something beyond what anyone thought he was capable of. Not only did he finish, Simony soon began entering triathlons and added an admirable twist – helping disabled children and adults feel the same thrill of competition he did.
Through his first project, Care2Tri, Simony helped disabled individuals compete in triathlons around the region and country. He has been
a familiar face at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, pulling and pushing children and adults alike through the racecourse. He soon became a recognized presence at triathlons nationwide. And on May 1 – after two years away from the sport – Simony will be back on the St. Anthony’s course assisting three individuals with special needs in his new project, Push2Inspire.
It all nearly came to an end two years ago, when he once again found himself overweight, out of shape and unsure how to proceed. He had helped others to persevere, but now he was struggling to find a way himself. “In late 2020, I was just so upset with the way things were going – the world didn’t make sense to me,” said Simony. 42. “I was up to 230 pounds from 175. I had failed so many times over the past few years trying to get back into triathlons. So, I finally decided to do something about it.”
His second wife, Kassandra, had no doubt he would succeed, because he drew motivation from helping others in need.
“He has one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen,” she said. “He truly is driven by the people he helps to compete. They are the reason he gets up to train at 4 a.m., because he feels, ‘I’ve got to do this for them.’”
In fact, Simony had already done something genuinely amazing. He was well attuned to the challenges of special needs individuals growing up in Michigan. His mother had been a para-educator in the school system, helping children with various disabilities to allow them to receive a mainstream education.
Now fast-forward to 2005. Soon after getting married for the first time, he and his wife were watching a televised Ironman competition from Hawaii. And he saw an emotionally charged, inspirational segment featuring the now late Dick Hoyt, swimming, wheeling and running with his disabled son, Rick, in the event.
“And I turned to her and said, ‘You know what, I’m going to do that one day,’ and she thought I was crazy – and part of me agreed with her,” he recalled. “I was completely out of shape. I ate at all hours and drank too much. And she said, ‘Yeah, I’m sure you will.’ She had every reason to think I wouldn’t, but there’s a part of me always wants to take on a challenge – no matter how outlandish it might seem to others.”
So, he did. After the couple moved to the Bradenton area around 2010, Simony followed through with his vow to compete in the Miami Half Ironman event. He completed it on sheer willpower, and was hooked. But he wanted others to feel that sense of boundary-pushing achievement as well. While pursuing a master’s degree in mental health counseling, he met a woman who suggested he race with her special-needs daughter.
Simony connected with the teenager named Nadia, who suffered from cerebral palsy and other intellectual disabilities, and ran while pushing her in a rolling “jogger” to get a sense of whether it would work. The child said virtually nothing, and he couldn’t tell whether the activity was enjoyable for her or not. But the next time, she couldn’t wait to see him, and Nadia became his first disabled racing partner.
That spurred him to continue finding other disabled individuals with whom to compete in triathlons, and he soon formed Care2Tri to continue his assisted-racing pursuits. He gained widespread attention when a national story aired about him in 2012, and people started emailing Care2Tri to ask Simony to assist individuals with disabilities – as young as 6 and as old as 60.
But soon, a personal setback derailed his dream.
He went through a divorce and it took a toll. “Mentally, I just cracked, and I needed a break – I couldn’t race anymore,” he said.
Instead, he returned to Michigan to be close to his daughter, leaving Care2Tri to a couple that eventually changed the name of the business. In time, he found his bearings with a new job and a new wife – he married Kassandra five years ago. The couple relocated to the Bradenton-Sarasota area. Yet every week, he flew to Michigan to visit his daughter for several days, then returned to Florida and his job – with triathlons no longer part of his life.
Being removed from competition during that time, Simony fell out of shape and watched his weight balloon back to 230 pounds. By November 2020, he felt himself at a new low point. But he slowly willed himself to make a change. And he created his new project, Push2Inspire, with the renewed dream of helping others experience the exhilaration of triathlon competition.
Nowadays, Simony isn’t only on a mission to help people with disabilities savor triathlons – as he will be doing again at St. Anthony’s. He hopes to send a message to anyone stuck in a negative cycle like he was. “Now, it’s truly about motivating the person at home,” he said. “This is how I do it – and I’ve done it twice in my life now. In my case, I involve people with special needs, but it’s really about trying to motivate anyone and showing them that they can make a change if they want to.”
For more information about Greg Simony’s project, visit Push2Inspire.com. He is always looking for more special needs individuals to help compete in triathlons.
Greg Simony: Greg Simony founded Push2Inspire to help those with disabilities enjoy the exhilaration of triathlon. He will swim, bike and run with three individuals at the St. Anthony’s Triathlon on Sunday, May 1.
GregSimony-Race: Greg Simony bikes with a disabled participant. He has been participating in triathlons since 2010.