Liz Ann Kudrna smiles after crossing the finish line of the Montana Women's Triathlon in Helena. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)

BOZEMAN – Every athlete faces a unique set of challenges. Seeing those athletes defeat their shortcomings often serves as motivation and inspiration. It’s that exact mentality that keeps Bozeman triathlete Liz Ann Kudrna moving forward.

“I’m a California girl, through and through,” Kudrna said. “I actually got into running when I was in college, but running races when I was living in San Francisco after college. I did a lot of fun runs around there. I did a triathlon down in San Luis Obispo – it’s kind of a fun triathlon. That was a long time ago.”

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For Liz Ann Kudrna those days feel like a lifetime ago.

“My accident was August 19, 2008. Almost eight years ago. Very strange – on one hand it feels very recent but on the other hand it feels like a lifetime because my life is so different in many ways. But I’m still the same person.”

Kudrna was hiking in the Paradise Valley with two friends, taking on Mount Cowen. As she took pictures of the scenery, her friends descended up ahead. Kudrna, an experienced hiker, looked around for a shortcut.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to cut off one of the zigs.’ Shouldn’t have done that,” she said. “. I kind of pounded on this one rock and started to lower myself down and, ‘Boom’ the rock just released right out and it happened in a minute. I got to spend the night on the mountain. 18 hours, yeah. They couldn’t rescue me right away so they got me the next morning.”

Kudrna suffered a broken back and severed spinal cord but she wasn’t about to let life in a wheelchair slow her down. She took up swimming, cross country skiing and learned to hand-cycle. Eventually she dipped into the world of triathlons.

“Two years ago, the organization I have received a couple grants from – the Challenge Athletes Foundation (CALF), they have a big triathlon,” said Kudrna. “They call it the best day in tri down in San Diego. It’s a very cool event. They have people of all abilities and disabilities mostly. You swim in the La Hoya Cove and then it’s a 45-mile bike ride and a 10-mile run. So I was like, ‘I’m going to do that.’ It’s a big fundraiser so I raised the money, went down there and did it.

“That’s what kind of brought me into triathlons. I really wanted to do that and I did it. After that while training I thought, ‘This is pretty fun.’ A weird, warped sense of fun, I know.”

From the Challenge Athletes Foundation tri to the Montana Women’s Tri in Helena, Kudrna swims, hand-cycles and runs – albeit in her wheel chair.

“The running part is really the newest thing for me. My run is my wheelchair. These are my legs,” she said, pointing at the wheels on her chair.

Each time she crosses the finish line, a large grin spread across her face, serves as an inspiration to those around her.

“I do get that, yeah. It’s fun,” she said. “I’m psyched that people are inspired. I mean hopefully it gets people out and about more.”

That’s the Pilates instructor in Kudrna. She still owns a studio, Body in Balance, in Bozeman and, after learning to instruct from her chair those years ago, perhaps not even a triathlon provides a thrill quite like seeing her clients push their limits.

“I love to teach people to access things that they don’t think that they can get,” she said. “Whether they’re in a chair or like someone who just left who is working with hip issues and hasn’t felt those muscles in years. I really enjoy teaching people about their bodies. It’s fun.”

Liz Ann Kudrna smiles after crossing the finish line of the Montana Women's Triathlon in Helena. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)
Liz Ann Kudrna smiles after crossing the finish line of the Montana Women’s Triathlon in Helena. (RICHIE MELBY/MTN Sports)