Pups of a Paralympic Champion: Meet Gold Medalist Allysa Seely & Her Service Dogs
“I never thought twice after acquiring my disability. I always knew I would go back to being an athlete.” – Allysa Seely
Allysa Seely was the kind of kid who threw herself into sports with gusto – soccer, baseball, karate, gymnastics, dance – ”Literally, anything I had the chance to try, I tried.” But nothing compared to that runner's high.
She dedicated herself to running throughout high school. By her first year of college, she was ready to tackle a new challenge: triathlon racing. Running, she had down. But biking and swimming? She hadn’t ridden a bike since 5th grade, and she’d only taken swim lessons at her childhood Rec Center. She threw herself into training and did better than she’d expected in her first race.
Then in 2010, after a few years of triathlon racing, Allysa acquired a brain injury which caused neurological damage. But that didn’t stop her. Only 7 months after her first surgery, she competed at the USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships with her Arizona State University team.
When the Paralympic Games added triathlon in 2012, Allysa’s collegiate coach encouraged her to give it a try. To her surprise, in her first Paratriathlon National Championships she won the silver medal. It was then that she decided to stick with it – “The more I did triathlon, the bigger goals I started to set for myself.”
As she tackled these goals, another obstacle appeared. In 2013, Allysa experienced complications from her brain injury and increased spasticity in her foot. This led to the amputation of her left leg below the knee.
“The disability didn’t change who I was – it just created a new hurdle for me to jump over to continue being active.”
She was now in a new paratriathlon category, but she continued to succeed. Among obtaining many other medals, she’s been a 12-time gold medalist in the ITU World Paratriathlon Event, and she won the gold medal at both the 2016 and 2020 Paralympics.
A New “Leash” on Life
Allysa attributes much of her success to the support she gets from her service dogs. Her retired pup, Bentley, is a 10-year-old chocolate lab who is bright, ball-obsessed, and a fan of the couch. Her current service dog, Mowgli, is a 7-year-old golden retriever with a huge personality, desire to greet each person he sees, and unmatched enthusiasm to join Allysa on every training session.
During the early days of Allysa’s diagnosis, her neurologist wasn’t confident about her living alone. But Allysa had big dreams, and she didn’t want anything to hold her back. “I’m a very independent person. I don’t want to have to travel with somebody or be tied down.” That all changed with service dogs.
With Bentley and Mowgli, she was able to move away from family in Arizona and head to Colorado, which was a much better triathlon training environment. Her dogs kept her safe at home and during training, so she could keep crushing her goals on the race course.
Allysa adopted her first service dog, Bentley, while she was still in college. From the beginning, Bentley showed potential. At a young age, Bentley was able to predict when Allysa was about to have a seizure (a side effect of her brain injury). Some dogs can identify a seizure in the moment, but prediction ahead of time is a rare skill.
Bentley sped through the service dog training process with ease and worked diligently for about 6-8 months.
Then one day, Bentley made it clear she was done with the working dog life. She’d lounge on the couch and refuse to leave the car. For the next year, Allysa tried everything to motivate her, like delicious high-reward treats. But even hot dogs and steaks weren’t enough of an incentive for this typically food-motivated pup.
Allysa took the cue and accepted the fact that Bentley would retire, instead becoming her beloved pet who’d greet her from the couch with kisses after a long training day. Allysa laughs affectionately, “She’s been dubbed the best-worst service dog ever.”
That’s when Mowgli came onto the scene. Mowgli was a bit harder to train – smart, but stubborn. Still, his greatest strengths are his work ethic and commitment.
“Mowgli is my unofficial coach and official training partner. From training workouts to hiking 14ers and working, he is always by my side.”
Mowgli shines when it comes to dedication. But athletic ability? Not so much. Allysa laughs, “He’s like a jock in high school who is really pretty but not that good in sports. He thinks he is the best, but he is not that athletic. But he is dedicated. He’ll lay next to my bike trainer for hours on end. He’ll come on every run with me.”
He keeps her on task, never missing a training day. On days when Allysa’s motivation lags, Mowgli will bring Allysa her running leg to remind her.
When she brings her dogs trail running, Allysa uses Ruffwear dog boots as “a tool to keep being able to do what I do all day every day. With the boots, I don’t have to plan around it if it's too hot for the dogs to go out.”
Finish Line Wags & Tasty Treats
For races within the U.S., Allysa brings Bentley and Mowgli along. Sometimes, a friend or family member will bring them to the finish line. There’s nothing like seeing the two of them cheering her on – tails wagging and bodies wiggling – to give her that final boost of momentum.
When she returns home after international races, she shows them her medals as a “reward” for being patient while she was away. Typically, they’re more interested in the souvenirs she brings from around the world – like a Japanese gourmet dog treat or hand-woven rope toy from Mexico.
Mowgli to the Rescue
On a trip to Texas in 2020, Allysa was especially glad to have Mowgli by her side. She had planned a quick 3-day trip to visit a doctor after not feeling well on a bike ride. What she’d thought would be a simple checkup turned into a 4½ month hospital stay.
The doctor discovered that she had an infection and blood clots in her heart. Immediately, she was rushed to the ICU.
An understanding hospital staff volunteered to take Mowgli outside for breaks while Allysa was in the ICU. When she returned to her hospital room, Mowgli stayed with her – and thank goodness he was there.
Her recovery went well at first. Then, things took a turn for the worse. Allysa experienced a rare immune reaction in which your immune system starts attacking your body. Mowgli must have known how much she needed him, because he made it his mission to protect her.
“It’s incredible that they know. I need to be here. Mom needs me. People would always walk in and laugh. We’d be sharing this tiny hospital bed. He weighs 98 pounds. He loves being the center of attention – he’s the class clown. Everybody knew him and loved him.
Every time a nurse or doctor would come in, he would get up on the bed to protect me. As if he was saying, ‘Don’t hurt my mom.’ He would smell the doctor and check her out before letting her approach me. It was during COVID, and there were no visitors. Having Mowgli there was absolutely amazing.”
There for the Journey
Whether it’s laying beside her in a hospital bed or cheering her on at a finish line, Allysa’s dogs are there for the journey. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Inspired by Allysa? Follow her journey with Mowgli and Bentley at @triallysa.