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MacLaren entered Yale's School of Drama in the fall of '86 and continued to work on his swimming. He also started riding a bike to class, and by the following spring he was swimming four miles a day and bicycling 60. He also jumped rope for an hour a day to simulate the pounding his leg would take during a run. (He had yet to be fitted for a running prosthesis.) In June '87, MacLaren entered his first biathlon, a 10K run and a 40K bike race, in Greenwich, Conn. He finished dead last in the run, which took him one hour and three minutes to complete. "Policemen on motorcycles were riding right behind me, and workers were cleaning up the debris," he says. "But the crowd was great. I knew that this was the right thing for me to do."
MacLaren completed his first marathon, the '87 New York race, in 4:04. Five months later, in April '88 in Boston, he ran a 3:27:54 to break the amputee world marathon record by more than seven minutes. That summer he ran nine Bud Light (shorter course) triathlons, averaging 2:35 per competition, which put him in the top 30% of athletes in the 25-29 age group.
MacLaren ended the summer of '88 by completing the Canadian Ironman in 12:16:35. Though athletics were taking up a lot of his time, his acting didn't suffer. He graduated from the Yale drama school in May 1989 with an impressive r�sum�. He had performed at Williamstown with Joanne Woodward, Richard Thomas and Jim Naughton. Now came the League Auditions, in which third-year acting students from Yale, New York's Juilliard School and New York University perform for top agents, casting directors and producers. He had 12 requests for interviews; six are considered a good response.
On several fronts 1989 was a good year. In August, MacLaren married Christine Wolfe, a graduate of Yale's architecture school, and moved to Darien, Conn. He increased the number of triathlons he competed in to 16, and his average time fell some 15 minutes, to the 2:20's. He completed the Hawaiian Ironman in October, and three weeks later did a 2:23:45 in the USTS Nationals at Hilton Head, S.C. Meanwhile, MacLaren the actor signed with an agent and read for several parts in films and television that called for "the Kevin Kline type." He has had some offers but, he says, "nothing that would make me stop competing yet. I have an understanding agent, but I know I can't put my acting on hold too much longer."
Experts aren't sure how much faster MacLaren can go in the triathlon, primarily because his current times are confounding enough. "Jim requires about 40 percent more oxygen than an able-bodied athlete posting the same times," says Lt. Col. Hudson Berrey, chief of orthopedic surgery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who looked up MacLaren at a triathlon in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
This year MacLaren was fitted with an advanced running prosthetic device tailored to his particular needs. He has different prostheses for running, walking and biking; when he swims he doesn't use one. MacLaren consulted Mike Joyce, a New York prosthetist who has worked with more than 30 amputee sprinters and marathoners, on the design of the running device. In MacLaren's first triathlon with his new leg, in May in Phoenix, he finished just 24 minutes behind Mike Pigg, the winner, with a time of 2:10:33. MacLaren also shaved seven minutes off his previous best. "That's a hell of a jump," says Joyce. Indeed so, and all the more amazing in that MacLaren loses a total of three to six minutes between the swim and the bike race and between the ride and the run.
About the only person who isn't especially impressed with MacLaren is MacLaren himself. But even he admits that the '89 Ironman was a high note in his career.
"You know, we all have our own dramas in life," MacLaren adds. "Not everyone has to do a triathlon to push themselves. Maybe your challenge is simply getting along with your father. Everything is relative. I don't want to sound like I have all the answers; I just believe that there are no limits on any of us."