Korene Varano spent years of her life bouncing between school and hospitals, until she made a choice to have her leg amputated. Then, she decided to do triathlons.
“I always had a wheelchair in the trunk of my car because any time I left my house I never knew if I was going to be able to walk,” said Varano. “Grocery stores, forget it.”
For 25 years, she’d lived her life knowing two things: school and hospitals. Varano was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her left femur when she was 12 years old. She had 17 surgeries, six of them femur replacements that lasted between 2 and 4 years. She learned to live in constant pain, reliant on a wheelchair or crutches.
Until she decided to have her leg amputated.
“Literally within 72 hours of my amputation I felt healthier and stronger than I had in 25 years,” said Varano.
Suddenly, Varano’s world wasn’t so small anymore. In one of her first meetings with her prosthetist at the Hangar Clinic in North Haven, Varano said a sentence she never thought she would: “I sat in that chair and i said, ‘I want to do triathlons,’”
So Varano set out, not just relearning to walk, but swim, run and bike as a new amputee.
“Running for me is still a work in progress,” said Varano with a laugh.
Training in trial and error with her coach Doug Levens from the Gaylord Sports Association. Every parathlete training in their sport and in how to use their equipment. For Varano, that’s calibrating her prosthetics to her specific movement.
“I have to take what I know about triathlons, what I know about biomechanics and how the body is supposed to work,” said Levens, who is the head para-triathlete coach at Gaylord. “You say okay, theoretically this should work and it either does or it doesn’t work and if it doesn’t work you go on to the next plan.”
Varano also working on her transitions, quite literally, from one leg to the next. The clock doesn’t stop as she moves from her bike leg to her running leg. She’s even working on biking with just one leg so she has one less transition.
All things she’s worked on since completing her first triathlon in 2019.
“My family actually held up the finish line for me because I was one of the last, I was the last one,” said Varano.
But two years later, she has her sights set on the Paralympics. After all, now Varano’s world is full of possibilities.
“I’m like, trying to get comfortable calling myself an athlete,” said Varano. “I’m an athlete.”
You can also call her Dr. Varano. She went through that entire journey while first getting her nursing degree and then, graduating from medical school as an oncologist.