Sports have always been a part of paratriathlete Liisa Lilja’s life. With a special talent for endurance, she has loved running ever since she was a kid.
At eight years old Liisa was diagnosed with bone cancer and had her right leg amputated. Her recovery was slow but right from the start Liisa was determined that life would still involve sports, “I wasn’t afraid of how other people might regard my disability,” Liisa recalls. “I just wanted to get back into the same shape I had been in before getting sick.”
Liisa’s physiotherapist suggested swimming to boost her rehabilitation. Reluctant at first, Liisa was eventually convinced to give it a try, enjoying it so much that she became a regular at the pool and four years later she was competing in the Finnish Championships. Soon after she was on the Finnish National Team and competing successfully in international competitions. “I’ve always been highly competitive,” says Liisa. “Whenever I go for something, I put everything into it. I thrived in being able to challenge myself once again.”
In the spring of 2014 Liisa obtained a running prosthesis from Ottobock and switched from swimming to triathlon. “When I became disabled, my greatest dream was to be able to run again,” Liisa recalls. “With the running prosthesis, I was determined to become a para-triathlete, it has always been the sport of my dreams.”
Just one year later, during the 2015 season, Liisa achieved extraordinary success winning silver in the European Championships and placing fourth in the World Championships. In 2016 she won silver again in European Championships and represented Finland in Rio 2016 Paralympics finishing fourth.
Besides her training, Liisa is studying physiology and genetics at the University of Turku. She wants to help other young people like herself, “By setting an example, I hope I can inspire disabled persons to get into sports and encourage them to lead active lives”.
Liisa’s love for her sports is unquestionable. Her preparation for Rio relies on her unyielding determination and passion. “I’ve always said that athletics is like the weather in Finland, 90 percent awful, but 10 percent absolutely fabulous. As a top athlete, you only remember the 10 percent. When you love what you do and have a real passion for it, you can achieve anything.”