YOU CAN DO EVERYTHING
By Laura Canfield
Mo Lahna Keeps Chasing His Dream
It’s no exaggeration to state that prosthetics technology and the sport of paratriathlon have transformed Mohamed Lahna’s life. The opportunities to travel, endure extreme physical challenges and cultivate personal relationships have far exceeded his DREAMS of becoming a competitive athlete.
Yet Mo, who is one of the world’s most accomplished paratriathletes, was once told, “because of your birth defect, you will never run.”
For years, he accepted that his limb difference–a missing right femur and hip deficiency due to congenital proximal femoral focal deficiency (PFFD)–would permanently dampen his DREAMS. In fact, he initially competed in paratriathlons with a handcycle, convinced that running was an impossibility.
Self-Taught and Broadening Horizons
Growing up in Casablanca, Morocco, Mo relied on crutches for mobility and for playing soccer. After receiving a makeshift passive prosthesis in his teens, he was fit with an articulating knee prosthesis in his 20s. He immediately started learning to ride a bicycle and was invited on a 500K cycling trek across the Atlas Mountains; although a novice, he embraced the opportunity. “I didn’t really know how to cycle yet, but I said yes,” he says. “On that trip, cycling in nature, I experienced the first genuine feelings of joy and freedom I’d ever felt. I wanted it to last forever.”
A year later, Mo heard the word “triathlon” for the first time. Within two years, he was competing in his first runbike-swim event in Tunisia. Although he lacked critical equipment–such as a wetsuit–at this first competition, he finished the race and fell in love with the sport.
He then applied to attend an adaptive sports clinic in the U.S. Because he spoke no English, he requested a translator. The Canadian grad student who volunteered was earning her CPO at the university where the clinic was taking place; a few years later, she became Mo’s wife and mother to their three children. Defying Limitations
Mo’s self-imposed limitations ended when he met another person with PFFD. An accomplished triathlete who had mastered running with a prosthesis, she encouraged him to apply for a charitable grant and try running.
“She told me, ‘You can do everything!’ and I believed her,” Mo says.
In 2012, he received his first running prosthesis from Össur and the Challenged Athletes Foundation, and he tried running for the first time. He remembers how challenging it was initially, lacking the proper body mechanics or breathing techniques to run efficiently. But, with signature determination, he began training and formed an ambitious DREAM: to finish the Marathon des Sables, a grueling six-day, six-marathon event through the Sahara Desert. Mo became the first person with limb loss or limb difference to attempt, much less finish, that race. Other extreme challenges followed, including the IRONMAN Kona World Championships, the XTERRA off-road triathlon and the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon, as he became the first person with limb loss or limb difference to finish some of the toughest long-distance triathlons in the world.
In 2016, Mo qualified for Morocco’s Paralympic Team. As the only athlete from Africa or the Middle East to qualify for the paratriathlon at the Rio Games, he felt a deep responsibility for representing two major geographies. “My dream,” he says, “was not only to qualify but to be on the podium,” and he earned the bronze medal in the PTS2 category.
A new DREAM formed: to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics as a member of Team USA. Training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado, he says, “It was another-level experience being there, and a DREAM come true.”
Ultimately, though, his DREAMS were cut short when the Paralympic Committee eliminated his category for the Tokyo Games.
Mo’s wife suggested he switch to paracycling, so he changed sports and qualified for Team USA’s paracycling team at the Pan American Games. He was then invited to compete in paracycling at the Tokyo Paralympics for Team Morocco.
Continuing to Dream
Mo was considering retirement when USA Triathlon confirmed his category’s reinstatement for Paris 2024. With a renewed DREAM, he began training again, unexpectedly benefiting from his paracycling stint. As he says, “I’m getting older, but I’m getting faster.” In September, Mo became the first man to qualify for the 2024 U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team. And, beyond Paris, he DREAMS of completing another IRONMAN and another XTERRA off-road triathlon. If successful, he will be the only person with limb loss or limb difference ever to have completed this trifecta.
As he looks back over the 12 years since he first attempted to run on a prosthesis, Mo says, “This life is beyond everything I ever dreamed of. For someone like me, who was told I could never run, I am so lucky to be here.”