Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘The Girl Who Figured It Out’: Minda Dentler aims to inspire families

By Cynthia Reugh For The Spokesman-Review

Growing up in Spokane, Minda Dentler once handed water to Bloomsday runners as a volunteer, but competing in events of that sort seemed off-limits to her.

“I never thought that I could be an athlete like what I saw,” said Dentler, who was born in India and contracted polio as an infant. Paralyzed in the legs and left at an orphanage by her birth mother, who was unable to care for her, Dentler was later adopted by a Spokane couple. After undergoing multiple surgeries, which enabled her to walk with leg braces and crutches, in 2013, she became the first woman hand-cyclist to complete the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run of the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

Dentler will be in Spokane on March 10 to discuss her new book, “The Girl Who Figured It Out,” which will be released on Tuesday and chronicles her inspiring journey from birth to finish line.

“A lot of my book is about facing challenges and learning from them. The story of the Ironman is a big part of that,” said Dentler, who was instilled with a positive mindset by her parents, Bruce and Ann Dentler.

“Growing up, my parents always believed in me. Even with having a disability, they never said that I couldn’t do something,” said Dentler, who drew strength from Bruce Dentler’s encouraging adage, “You can do it, Minda. Just figure it out,” as she struggled with walking, climbing stairs and other daily tasks.

“I think when you’re only 5 years old you just take it (a disability) on as the way life is going to be, so if you want to get around, you have to do the work,” said Ann Dentler, who frequently encouraged her daughter to pull herself up from the floor after she fell from her crutches.

“She chose not to help me many times, because she wanted me to figure it out and to get up on my own, because she knew that one day there’d be a time that she wasn’t going to be there to help me,” Minda Dentler said.

Now a mother herself, Minda Dentler hopes to convey that same message of resilience and conviction to others with her new book, which is written toward younger readers, but packed with words of wisdom for people of all ages.

“There’s this pivotal moment where I’m at the Ironman World Championship in Kona for the first time,” she said. “You see me get pulled off the course, because I’m too slow and honestly, it was a real gut-wrenching failure to me. I started doubting myself.

“I wanted to quit, but my friends and family wouldn’t let me. It’s the part where I really start believing in myself. I feel like these two pages are the essence of my entire journey and story.”

“I think these are powerful lessons that I want to share with my daughter and to the world,” added Dentler, who learned to swim using just her arms and has now completed over 40 triathlons, including four Ironman distance races and a Half Ironman event on each continent.

Working by day as a Human Resources Program Manager for a large insurance company, Dentler has joined forces with the United Nations Foundation Shot at Life Campaign, Rotary International and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as an advocate for global polio immunization. She is still moved when she reflects back on that moment nearly 10 years ago when her own daughter, Maya, received a polio vaccination.

“It’s so meaningful. When I think about that story, I get emotional,” she said. “She’s literally living a life without polio because she got access to a vaccine. How awesome that vaccines can prevent diseases like polio and she’ll never be paralyzed from it.”

Over the years, Dentler has been motivated by many and a motivator to many others, including a woman named Caroline who she met on a flight to Kansas City.

“I had told her about doing the Ironman and she just looked at me like, ‘How can you do Ironman, you have a disability?’ ” said Dentler, who was later contacted online by the Florida woman. “She’s telling me she signed up for an Ironman. She tells me that her brother signed up for the Ironman too.

Dentler met up with Caroline again a few years later at a different Ironman race.

“She comes and cheers me on. It was such a cool story,” added Dentler, who feels it is connections such as these which power the message of her book. “I’ve been inspired by other people and their stories and I hope that I can do the same for others.”