Odessa man headed to triathlon after losing legs, arm, in boat explosion

Mike Atherton lost both legs and an arm in a boating accident.
Mike Atherton lost both legs and an arm in a boating accident.
Mike Atherton lost both legs and an arm in a boating accident.

ODESSA, Fla. (WFLA) — Seven years ago, a family of 14 was enjoying a day out on the water on Beer Can Island when their boat exploded. Everyone survived, but six people were seriously injured. Mike Atherton was one of the injured. He lost both legs and his arm in the accident, but he hasn’t let that stop him from moving on.

Atherton has been walking since shortly after the accident and is determined to get back to the activities he enjoyed prior to the horrible explosion. On Wednesday, he was fitted for new running legs and plans to run for the first time in seven years. He’ll test his endurance in a triathlon this weekend.

Running legs are a big deal, especially when there was a point that Atherton thought he’d never walk again after the boat explosion.

“I went through a period of depression. Why did this happen to me? I’m out here trying to live a good life,” he said.

That mindset didn’t last long.  “You can’t just stop. You got to push through the challenges, push through the struggles.”

Atherton’s been pushing through for seven years. He’s had to learn to walk again. Within 18 months of the explosion, he was back on the water skiing. “Oh it was crazy. It felt great. Afterwards it’s a lot of mind over matter.”

And now, it’s mind over matter again as he plans for his triathlon.

“Don’t know what I can go from having not ran for seven years to trying to run 10 miles. It’s a pretty big challenge, but I’ll see what I can do and I will push myself as far as I can.”

And he’s doing it all with a smile and inspiring others along the way. “He always amazes me, his attitude and how he can accomplish so much,” said prosthetist Donald Smith.

Before Atherton even crosses the finish line of his first race, he’s already looking ahead.

“What can I do next, what can I do next you know, and just keep pushing myself.”

The triathlon is Sunday in San Diego, California.

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