What It Takes to Be Unlimited

I am a blind athlete driven by the will to test my physical limitations and motivated by challenge. When a director at Achilles International (an organization that enables athletes with all types of disabilities to train for races) told me last year that there are very few female blind triathletes out there and that I was athletic enough to compete on their level, my competitive side awoke and I began training. I knew I would have to race until I could win my division. So far, I have completed one half marathon, one sprint triathlon and one olympic triathlon.

When you're an athlete with a disability, you have to possess the necessary brute strength, endurance and determination to achieve your goals, just like any able-bodied athlete. But you also must find a way to adapt yourself to your sport of choice. This blog aims to answer the question: How do they do it? and will focus on sports from the perspective of someone with a disability.

I never race alone

One of the great things about being a blind athlete is that I always have a companion with whom I share the experience of the race; It's like having my own personal eyewitness. This companion is my guide, and her goal is to provide me with all the information I need during the race so that I can do my best. During the swim and run portions of a triathlon, we are attached by a home-made tether, so that I can feel how sharp our turns need to be and any sudden stops to avoid collisions with other racers; during our rides on the two-seated tandem bike, she tells me when she changes gear, about the hills as they come at us, and occasional bits of gossip about our competitors. Without her guidance and encouragement, my race would be impossible.
All the guides I've met during training workouts with Achilles have inspired me. They get no official time results when they race with an athlete, as they are playing a supporting role, and, in the case of my guide, they are subjected to the occasional bumps and bruises that result from their blind partner not knowing that she isn't swimming or running in a straight line. So, why do they do it? What motivates someone to put in this kind of time and effort for little reward? I shall leave these questions as fodder for a future blog post.

The NYC Triathlon

I was one of 80 paratriathletes (athletes with disabilities) who competed this month in the New York City Triathlon -- over 32 miles of swimming, biking and running through the Hudson River, up and down the West Side Highway and around Manhattan's Central Park. For my first Olympic-length triathlon (and my second triathlon ever) it was emotionally excruciating and physically draining... but, boy, am I glad I finished it! My swim through the Hudson was slow and disgusting, and we got THREE flat tires during our bike race. (There were a total of 18 flat tires changed that day, so my guide and I dominated in this category). When mishaps like this happen during a race, the loss of adrenaline and motivational drive make it incredibly difficult for an athlete to continue. But the other paratriathletes from the Achilles team were waiting at the finish line, and I knew I couldn't tell them that I'd quit, so I started the six-mile run. Let me tell you, finishing slowly is far better than quitting, and there is nothing sweeter than the sound of a cheering finish line crowd. Next year, I'll be back and better than ever!