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SPRINT TRIATHLON/5K RUN: Brothers in arms

INDEPENDENCE — Brothers Neal and Matt Olson were all smiles on Saturday. Matt placed second in the inaugural Independence Try-A-Tri while Neal, competing in his first triathlon, finished eighth.    But it wasn’t their finishes that were cause for their celebration.    For these brothers, getting the chance to participate together is their biggest victory.    One step at a time    Stayton resident Matt Olson loved to stay active. A basketball enthusiast, Olson worked to keep himself in shape.    But in an instant, Olson’s life changed.    In 2010, doctors discovered a spinal tumor and Olson underwent surgery to remove the tumor.    The surgery was successful, but it came with a cost.    “Because of my surgery, my right leg was disabled,” Olson said. “When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t even walk. It was completely paralyzed.”    The paralysis wasn’t permanent. But Olson faced a long road to regaining motion in his leg.    “I had to learn to walk all over again,” Olson said. “That was tough.”    Matt refused to let himself get discouraged and took part in two years of physical therapy to regain motion in his leg. Eventually, he regained the ability to walk. But he wasn’t content to sit around.    So, Olson began swimming. Then, he added biking, and jogging.    “I really was just looking for a way to exercise,” Olson said. “It just grew from there.”    Olson kept driving himself, and, in 2012, he competed in his first triathlon.    “It was an awesome feeling,” Matt, now 30 years old, said. “It’s not a whole lot of fun while you’re racing, but once you finish, it’s a blast.”    It wouldn’t be long before his brother began competing at his side.    Brotherly love    Two years ago, Independence resident Neal Olson was looking for ways to stay more active and healthy with his wife. Neal broke new ground for himself on Saturday. After competing in a half marathon in 2013, the Try-A-Tri was his first triathlon of any kind.    “It was awesome,” Olson said. “We had a great time. … Everything seemed to move a lot faster. I’ve never done a multi-sport event before and it can be hard to transition your body from one mode of activity to another. But from the support here and the fact that I think we’re all here to have fun and a great time, it helped motivate me to finish.”    While training for the event was difficult, Neal didn’t have to look far to keep him motivated.    “The stuff he’s been through, I’ve got nothing to complain about,” Neal said. “I really don’t have any barriers to being healthy and active, not like he has. I figure with the things he’s worked through, I can do this.”    Neal and Matt agreed to help push each other in training. Now, the pair is about to embark on a new challenge.    Looking ahead    As the Olson brothers took time to enjoy the Try-A-Tri on Saturday, their attention will quickly be turned to the Eugene Marathon on July 27. There, both will be competing in their first marathon. And they can’t wait to face their next challenge.    “My brother wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon,” Neal said. “We were talking about giving this race a try, and I thought I can help him train for this.”    The sprint triathlon may incorporate three different activities in one race, but training for a marathon presents a new set of challenges.    “You start running a lot of miles,” Matt said. “That’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever done athletically speaking.”    As Matt and Neal prepare for their next challenge, both said they are excited to see the Independence Try-A-Tri grow over the coming years. And they hope this event can help inspire others to give it a try and find the strength to finish.    “The biggest thing for people and what I’ve gotten out of this is: don’t run this for anybody else, run it for you,” Neal said. “As I’ve gotten older, I didn’t care what people thought of me or how fast or slow I was going. I’m doing it to stay active and healthy and have fun. So, do this for yourself or find a cause and you can do this.”

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