Today I was lucky enough to be featured on Fox & Friends with my good friend, Amy Dixon. Anna Kooiman did a piece on guiding visually impaired athletes in triathlon. She also featured Team RWB, which has provided many VI athletes with amazing, capable guides. I am thrilled with how this turned out!
On May 18, 2013 I guided Rachel weeks, a vision and hearing impaired athlete, in Ironman Texas. This is a recap of our race.
What many of you do not know is that Rachel Weeks is not only vision impaired, but also hearing impaired. Rachel has Usher Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder that causes her to lose both senses. Rachel is the first athlete with Usher Syndrome to complete an ironman.
I met Rachel last year at the Chicago Triathlon. We communicated via Facebook and twitter over the summer and I convinced her to do the race with me. From the moment I met Rachel, I knew I liked her. After an outstanding performance at the Chicago Tri, Rachel decided to sign up for an ironman. I have always hated hot races, so I swore I would never do Ironman Texas, but when Rachel told me which race she wanted to do, I didn’t hesitate to sign up.
Many people ask me whether we have to pay two entry fees for our races. The answer is no, we do not. Rachel pays for herself and I get a link to sign up as a participant- for liability and safety reasons. When I guide, I am, for all intents and purposes, a piece of equipment. I cannot stress this enough- this was Rachel’s race. When I guide, I act as the eyes for my athlete. I get a chip time, but all of my effort in the race goes toward helping my athlete run her best race.
Rachel and I do not train together during the year. In fact, I had not seen her since the Chicago triathlon when I met up with her at the Ironman Texas expo. As the case with all of my close friends, I felt like I had just seen her, even though it had been over 8 months.
I have been competing in triathlons since 2001 and guiding since 2008. I have guided athletes in 17 triathlons, including 3 (now 4) ironman races. No matter how many races you have guided, or completed solo, there is always a level of uncertainty going into a competition. You can never predict how you will feel on race day, which can be nerve wracking!!! Rachel and I are not the same pace. It is important to try and race with athletes whom you could (theoretically) beat in a race. As my friend m David Adame, director of the C Different Foundation, says, a guide should “have gas in the tank.” I have been in races where I totally blew up and had to slow down my athlete. It is the absolute worst feeling in the world. So, the way to reduce the odds of a situation like that occurring, the best thing to do is race with someone whom you are significantly faster than. That being said, chemistry is also incredibly important, especially in longer races. Keep in mind that Rachel was literally connected to me for an entire Ironman. Can you imagine how that would have felt if she and I weren’t also good friends?
Rachel and I flew in separately and met at the Ironman expo in The Woodlands on Thursday, May 16th. We walked through packet pick up together and then went shopping for race day nutrition and gear that we still needed to purchase. After putting my seat and pedals on the bike and making doing a quick eyeballed bike fit, we went back to our homestay before the mandatory athlete meeting/welcome dinner. Race prep began the next morning.
Ironman Texas offered athletes a two hour window during which they could practice swimming on the actual swim course the day before the race. We were told that the water would be warm- most likely wetsuit optional. If the water is above 78 degrees, athletes have the option to wear wetsuits, but they cannot qualify for Kona or other age group awards. If the water is 84 degrees or above, officials will not let athletes wear wetsuits because there is a risk of overheating. Having overheated in a number of races myself, I encouraged Rachel to make the call to not wear wetsuits. I think it’s worth having a slower swim time (wetsuits can cut significant time off of swim splits), if you can make it up elsewhere in the race because you haven’t overheated!
Rachel and I did a 20 minute practice swim on Friday morning. Rachel is a great swimmer, and we swim well together, so we mainly decided to practice because she wanted to get rid of her pre race jitters. When we hopped in the water, she had a couple of moments of anxiety, where she would stop in the water and almost laugh at herself. She wasn’t having a full blown panic attack, but I know she was trying to convince herself to start swimming again.
After a while, she overcame the open-water nerves and we headed to shore. Next, we went to Tri Bike Transport, so that I could fit the bike and we could go for a practice ride. After our ride, we dropped the bike off at transition… Saying goodbye to Rachel’s tandem for the night made everything seem real. The next time we would ride her bike would be after the swim on Saturday morning. I was nervous that I hadn’t tightened everything down or that my fit would be uncomfortable! A lot of things can start hurting over a 112 mile ride.
We relaxed at our homestay after dropping the bike off. The only thing we had left to do was put our race bags together.
Before bed, I laid all of my nutrition out on the floor and divided everything up between my bike, run and special needs bags. I made sure to freeze four bottles of perpetuem before bed so that we would have relatively cold drinks the next day. Tina Ament taught me the best ironman special needs trick- I bought a cooler for my bike special needs bag. If you stash a couple of bottles in a soft cooler, you can have extra bottles of liquid nutrition on the bike!
I felt like I was ready to race… so I headed off to bed.
We waded into the water that was teeming with what seemed like thousands of age group athletes. I imagined them bearig down on us, 10 short minutes after my race would begin. As a PC athlete, Rachel is allowed to start directly behind the pro wave, which would give us a 10 minute head start on the field. I can only imagine what we look like when we start swimming. The entire lake is watching the pros quickly pull away, while our little orange-capped heads bob slowly along in the water.
When the gun went off, I counted a beat and then told her to start swimming. Our race had begun.
A few strokes into the swim, Rachel began having a minor panick attack. When Rachel panicks, it has more to do with the fact that she can’t catch her breath than anything else. When this happened in the Chicago Triathlon, I had her tread water for a few seconds and then count to 10 strokes and tread again. We started swimming like that until Rachel heard the national anthem playing in the background. The age groupers were about to start swimming. We had about 10 minutes to swim alone before they would come up behind us. She was overcome with emotion when she heard our anthem. It was all I could do not to cry.
I knew that we couldn’t make 2.4 miles in 2 and a half hours if we stopped every 10 or 20 strokes, so I told Rachel to try breathing every stroke, instead of every three… It worked!!! I had seen Aaron Scheidies, one of the fastest triathletes I know, swim like that in the Chicago Triathlon, so I figured it wouldnt slow her down too much!
The course was easy to navigate, so we got into a good rhythm. I knew that any moment, thousands of aggro age groupers would be upon us. I must admit, tge thought scared me a little bit. as confident as I am in the water, and as confident as I was in Rachel’s swimming, I wasn’t looking forward to getting dunked by a bunch of hyper competitive dudes.
Rachel, it turned out, enjoyed battling the age groupers! The more we were in the middle of things, the more fun she seemed to be having! I did have to move us out of the center of the pack because it became too difficult to stop every few seconds to grab someone’s head and tell them not to swim through us because we were “tied together”.
The rest of the swim went relatively smoothly. I was really proud of how Rachel handled the crowds of athletes knocking into us. When she began to get a little tired (about an hour in), she started veering to the left a bit. I had to pull on our tether to rein her back in!
I felt really good during the swim. I was very happy with how things went. Because we chose not to wear wetsuits, I knew that our time wasn’t going to be insanely fast, but I was happy that everything went as smoothly as it did. When we got into the channel, I started getting really pumped. At one point I even thought to myself, “I am superwoman!” That’s a good way to feel during a race.
We got out of the swim in 1:46:16. I felt such a rush of adrenaline when we started running towards transition. I couldn’t wait to get on the bike! T1 took 11:50, which isn’t bad. I made sure that we had everything we needed in our jersey pockets. The last thing you want to do when you start an Ironman bike is forget your nutrition. Another thing that I like to do is bring a little spray bottle of sunscreen. If you’re as pale as I am, you need extra sunscreen for a ride that long.
As usual, riding with Rachel felt AWESOME! Rachel trusts me on the bike. I can tell that she trusts me because she never makes any sudden movements and she doesn’t tense her arms. When I’m piloting a tandem, I can feel almost every movement my stoker makes. If I’m riding with a nervous athlete, the front of the bike can start moving back and forth if the rider has a death grip on the bars. Sometimes I’ll ask an athlete to pretend that the bars aren’t there. I don’t have to give Rachel any tips. She is super comfortable on the bike. The only thing I will say is, “Focus on your pedal strokes. Don’t get lazy when you get tired.” But I’m saying that as much for myself as I am for her!
The first 40 miles were a breeze. It hadn’t gotten too hot yet, and the wind seemed to be at our backs. An official motorbike pulled up alongside us and interviewed Rachel, which was really exciting. It seemed like the ride was too good to be true…
Turns out, it was.
Our average pace for the first 30 miles was 17.48 mph. This pace felt incredibly easy for us, as it should feel at the beginning of an ironman. If you are fatigued 30 miles into the bike leg, you did something wrong. I used one of Tina’s tricks to help us focus on the bike. I dedicated every 10 miles to a different person or group of people. It helps to focus on the 10 miles you’re in and to not thing ahead to the ground you still have to cover.
We dedicated 10 mile to Richard Hunter, a visually impaired athlete who works tirelessly to get visually impaired individuals into athletics and Diane Berbarian, another VI athlete who coached Rachel for the Ironman. 10 miles were dedicated to Rachel’s daughters and to our mothers. 10 went to the victims of Boston and to our nation’s veterans.The hardest 10 miles were the ones we dedicated to the fallen members of 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines. It seemed appropriate to suffer at that point. It was the kind of pain that makes you think about what REAL pain is… I knew that anything I was feeling wasn’t CLOSE to the amount of pain our grunts feel when they’re patrolling in Afghanistan. So we pushed on…
By the time we hit mile 50, it had started to get really hot. We knew that the heat index was supposed to be in the mid 90s, which meant that it would feel like it was over 100 on the dark asphalt. After mile 50, I began looking forward to Special Needs, which was at mile 56. We had been doing a great job with nutrition thus far. I made sure to remind Rachel to drink and take salt tabs. I would set hydration goals for each part of the race. For instance, I would make sure that we both finished at least one bottle of water and half a bottle of Powerbar Perform. Miles 50-56 seemed endless. We were riding into the wind, and the heat had started to take it’s toll. Finally, we arrived. I made baggies of salt and vinegar potato chips for both of us, which have gotten me through a few Ironmans before. When Rachel tasted them, she was elated. It was probably the best moment of the race so far. When you’re exercising for that long, it’s amazing what the body craves (and on the flip side, it can be amazing how much the body won’t tolerate when it comes to nutrition). `
The boost from our salt and vinegar chips didn’t last long. I felt like we were really dragging. Then I heard a high pitched squeaking noise… that’s never a good sign. I told Rachel I was going to pull over to check the brakes. As it turned out, both of our brakes were rubbing! We speculated that the heat had someting to do with it. The metal disc brakes could have shifted because of the extreme temperature. We could have been wrong, but it made sense at the time!
After fixing the brakes, we set off again. Throughout the ride, Rachel had been in good spirits. We talked throughout much of the early part of the ride because we were in a low endurance zone. But as we got further into the ride we becane much less chatty. When Rachel stopped responding with as much “energy”, I began to worry a bit. We saw dozens of athletes on the side of the road. One man had stopped at a spectator’s home and was lying on the side of the road holding an ice pack they had given him. I was feeling pretty good, but I have done a bunch of races in the heat. I learned from my mistakes in Panama (I did the 70.3 Panama in February) and was very conscious of hydration during the race. Rachel is a new triathlete. It’s impossible to predict how your body will react in extreme conditions and it’s even harder to predict when you don’t have a ton of racing experience.
I assumed that most of the aid stations had someone to administer first aid, so I told Rachel that we were going to stop at the next station and find her an ice pack. She didn’t protest. By some miracle, the next aid station actually had a kiddie pool filled wth ice. There was a woman sitting in the pool who looked as red as a beet. We took off our cycling shoes and helmets and got in the pool with her. It was so hot outside, the water didn’t even feel cold. I couldn’t believe it.
I don’t know exactly how long we stayed at the aid station, but I am convinced that the ice bath saved the race for us. When we began riding again, I could feel the difference in Rachel’s riding. She was pushing harder and seemed to have a lot more energy. I felt better for a while, but the heat started to get to me with about 30 miles to go. When you’ve already gone 80 miles, 32 shouldn’t seem like many, but it felt like an unconquerable distance.
I found myself getting very, very quiet. I hoped Rachel didn’t say anything. She was quiet too. I told her that I would do whatever I could to get us to 112. I knew that she was working as hard as she could, but we still had a marathon to go, so I didn’t want to risk pushing Rachel too hard. There were points in the race when I fantasize about quitting. I thought to myself, “It wouldn’t be so bad if Rachel wanted to stop right now.” But in the back of my head I knew that it would be worth it to keep going. Shortly before mile 90 pick up truck filled with bikes passed by. After racing for 13 years I’ve seen a lot of things, but I have never seen so many abandoned bikes.
The heat was dangerous. It was crippling even the fittest athletes. The aid station at mile 90 was sent to be seen. As we approached, I asked Rachel if there was a party going on. There appeared to be dozens of people just hanging out at the aid station. Rachel and I needed to use the porta potties, and when I was waiting for her to finish I noticed a group of very fit looking athletes sitting under a tent. It was obvious that they had all thrown in the towel. This might sound twisted, but seeing a bunch of in shape athletes who had decided to drop out somehow we had our job is to me. Maybe it was a case of schadenfreude. Either way, I was determined to get through the bike.
The last hour of the bike was pretty quiet. I had to stop and fix the brakes again. I think I had to fix them a total of three times during the ride. I don’t know how much the brakes rubbing slowed us down compared to the heat, but the combination of those two factors really did a number on us. When we finally got to the Woodlands, I was thrilled. It felt like we were home again! I realized that we had spent almost 8 hours on the bike, which is pretty astounding considering the pace we held for the first half of the bike.
I let Rachel know that we were approaching the bike dismount line. After so many hours in the saddle, I think there was a disconnect between her mind and her feet, because she was unable to clip out of her pedal as I stopped at the line. So of course, the only mishap we had, was in front of hundreds of spectators at the finish of the bike. Rachel was not hurt, so it was actually pretty funny. But I felt like a terrible guide!
I cannot describe how excited I felt when the volunteers took the bike from us. Rachel and I walked as quickly as we could to the changing tent to prepare for the run. We took just over 14 minutes in T2. We spent a little bit of time putting our compression socks on, but I maintain that it is worth the extra time. Rachel was still recovering from the ride, so we started out walking. The heat was so bad, it was almost impossible to run. After a few miles we started to job in the shade, but there was very little shade to be found. I just wanted to make it to aid station for, where I knew our RWB teammates would be waiting. One of the most exciting parts ofWas passing the RWB aid station with our tents and flags boasting the Team Red, Whire & Blue Eagle. Ironman volunteers are an incredibly tough bunch. Our volunteers began the day at 5 AM and did not quit until after midnight.
Both Rachel and I are talkative and friendly so we made a lot of friends during the run. One of the first friends we made was a Marine officer based at Camp Lejeune. As he passed us he asked me what exactly Team RWB was. I used the opportunity to try and recruit him. I hope he remembers to look us up. Talking to the officer motivated me because I dedicated my race to our active duty servicemembers and veterans.
Coming into our second lap, I did not think we were in any trouble as far as meeting the 17 hour time constraint. We were very conservative during the marathon, because I felt that being conservative was far better than pushing ourselves past what our bodies could handle and ending up like a countless people who were forced to leave the event and ambulances. All throughout the race heard sirens going off and we knew more and more people were forced to quit. We moved a lot quicker on our second lap than we did on the first, but we still were not able to run very quickly. I felt shockingly strong during the run, which made me very happy. My biggest fear is having to make my athlete slowdown because I cannot go any faster. It has happened to me two times, and both of those places are still painful to think about. When I racing, 100% of my focus is on the athlete with whom I am competing. I wanted nothing more than to allow Rachel to run the race SHE wanted to run. i still encouraged her to drink, taking calories, and consume salt tabs. Anything can happen during an Ironman marathon. You can never be too careful when it comes to nutrition.
However, the types of foods we ate during the marathon are pretty funny. The most exciting thing that I found at in a station on the course with pickles. My two favorite foods during the run at Ironman Texas were chicken broth and pickles. I choked down a Gu or two, but it was tough to eat anything at all. It was still blazing hot even after the sun went down. When I felt Rachel’s arm, she was hot to the touch.
Some people on the course remembered us from the bike and asked us if we had been on the tandem. Many people let us know how inspired they were by what Rachel was doing. On occasion, we got an, “Oh, how cute! You guys are tied together!” I suppose that if you did not know that Rachel is visually impaired you might think that we were using the tether as a gimmick. I used every opportunity I could to explain that she was a physically challenged athlete. I would love for it to be commonplace to see visually impaired athletes in triathlons, so I believe that spreading awareness is of the utmost importance.
As it got dark, I began to realize that Rachel probably never trained in the dark at home. I mean, why would she? I asked her if she had run in the dark before. She confirmed my suspicion, that this would be a first for her. So during the final 9 miles of the marathon, not only did Rachel have to battle extreme fatigue, but she would be forced to run in pitch darkness for the very first time. In addition, we began to realize that we would be cutting it very close to the 17 hour time limit.
I did some quick math, and noted that we would need to go about 15 minutes per mile on the last loop to make it to the finish line before 11:50 PM. Midnight is the cutoff for age groupers, but because we started with the pros we had 10 fewer minutes. Rachel was wearing a Garmin watch, but it was not reliable. We had to just run as much as possible and pray that we would make it.
We ran some of the last lap with a fellow RWB member, Boonsri. He would stay with us for a while, get tired and walk, and then catch back up a few minutes later. This race wrecked everyone in it. The Team RWB aid station fell just before mile 22 on the third lap. By this point, I was getting a little nervous. The race could have gone either way. As we passed by our team members, I saw Hailey Lanier, the four year old daughter of my good friend, Allison, whom I stayed with earlier in the week. Seeing Hailey pumped me up! I couldn’t believe she was still awake, and cheering!!! Next, my friend, Hailey, ran up beside me. She said, “I have Jared on the phone! He says he loves you and that you should kick it into the next gear!” Getting a message like that was the final push I needed…
I was in focus mode. Rachel and I speed walked the next two miles. At that point, running and speed walking were so close in pacing, we thought walking fast might be more efficient. Boonsri caught up to us and let Rachel hold his arm for a while. At that point, it was so dark that Rachel had to hold my arm at all times. We turned each mile to the session we did not have time to stop it, so I would call to the volunteers and ask them to hand us fluids as we walked by. If they didn’t react fast enough, we would keep walking and usually someone would run up to us with a cup of water.
As we approach the final 2 miles we passed by the home of two new friends whom I stayed with the Thursday before the race. John and Nancy walked with us for close to a mile. Boon and I chatted with them, but Rachel was dead silent; she was totally in the zone. Just before 2 miles to go, I reminded Rachel that her daughters were waiting at the finish line for her. It was time to fucking GO! Rachel started running and didn’t stop.
We were still cutting it incredibly close. Rachel kept a really good pace. I stayed silent and tried to match her stride. There was nothing else to say. We were pushing it to the end. We got close to the second to last aid station and I noticed a sign that said, “Mile 7, 16, and 24 here.” A few minutes before, I told Rachel that we were almost at mile 25. I couldn’t believe it! Had I just lied to Rachel? If we had been at mile 24, we wouldn’t have made it. Thankfully, the sign was wrong. About a quarter mile after that aid station, we hit mile 25. We had less than 15 minutes to go 1.2 miles. The last mile seems very very long. There was an out and back along the water that messed with my head. I just wanted to be at the finish line already! Heading into the home stretch, about a half mile before the end, Allison handed me her American flag. At the Chicago triathlon last August, the only other race I had done with Rachel, I ran five of the 6.2 miles carrying an American flag. When Allison handed me the flag I got goosebumps. I remembered why we love racing. This meant more than both of us. This Ironman was about overcoming obstacles that Rachel at one point believed were insurmountable.
I had not seen the finishing stretch, so I was unsure of all of the turns. I relied on volunteers to steer us towards the finish line. I did everything I could to hold the flag high. Rachel seems to be running better than she had the entire race. The energy of the crowd at an Ironman finish line the last few minutes before midnight is unparalleled. I’m glad I got to experience the energy of this group of people. I told Rachel to grab the flag with me and we ran across the line. We headed into the shoot and picked up speed with every step. I began crying before we even crossed the finish line. I was overcome with pride for Rachel and filled with a feeling of utter joy. I wrapped my arms around her in congratulations. We had finished 140.6 miles in 16:58:14. One minute, forty-six seconds to spare.
Rachel said the only thing I could possibly hope to hear after an Ironman. She told me, “I wouldn’t have changed one thing about that race.”
I’m already trying to convince her to do another…
Sidestepping threats and jeers, the Afghan women on the country’s national cycling team are risking their lives to compete and doing their part to help women’s rights race forward in the war-torn nation. NBC’s Mike Taibbi reports.
This video is both tragic and inspirational. The adversity these women must overcome would seem insurmountable to most people. I applaud these cyclists for their courage and tenacity. Please take 2 minutes and watch this clip. It’s absolutely worth watching.
Follow up to the guiding article I posted earlier. Leona and I were interviewed before the start of the NYC Tri about guiding. I had an amazing time racing with Leona Emberson.
I have copied the text from a New York Times article on guiding visually impaired triathletes that was published last July. I was honored to be interviewed for the piece, and I think the author did a wonderful job describing how rewarding it is to compete in a triathlon as a guide for a visually impaired triathlete.
For Blind Competitors, Partners Show the Way
By ZACH SCHONBRUN
Published: July 7, 2012
A plunge into cold water can drown one’s alternate sensory perception. Sudden, seizing panic attacks can follow, like waves of paralyzing disorientation. Shivering fits. It is at these rare nadirs when the blind may seek an encouraging tug.
Six completely blind athletes will swim the 0.93 miles, bike the 24.8 miles and run the 6.2 miles of the New York City Triathlon’s course through the West Side of Manhattan on Sunday. Making every step, spin and stroke along with them will be six volunteer guides, tethered to them.
“It’s a teamwork, a partnership, no question,” said Caroline Gaynor, who will be making her fifth guiding appearance. “I don’t necessarily like it when people say, ‘Oh, it’s so great you do that.’ I get as much out of it as they do.”
During the swim and the run, the pairs are connected by bungeelike cords, typically wrapped around each other’s waist (occasionally, they are attached by the wrist). For the bike portion, they ride a tandem — a specially modeled dual-seat cycle, sighted guide in front, legs pedaling in synchrony.
When guiding, the minutest of details must be tended to. The night before the race, shoelaces need tying, goggles need taping, tethers need adjusting to a manageable length. Too short, and rhythm can be disrupted. Too long, and the blind swimmer cannot feel the guide’s directional tugs.
The number of steps from the river to the road might be counted. Succinct communication calls, like a coach’s playbook, are critical for the swimming and cycling portions, when hearing can be difficult.
When the guide Sameh Mikhail met his athlete, Terry Gardner, for the first time in 2010, it took them nearly two hours of practice just to be able to balance on the tandem bike.
The runs involve near-continual dialogue: alerts about the next turn, dip, hill, curb and grate, along with the occasional pep talk. Mikhail said Gardner even liked him to keep a running count of every person they passed.
Understandably, the guides need to be in top triathlon shape to be able to race with the athlete and also adapt to conflicts that almost always arise.
The first time Steve Zink ever guided, their tandem bike’s rear derailleur broke halfway down the West Side Highway. Unable to fix it and unwilling to give up, Zink and his partner decided to run the rest of the way, carrying the bike a good 10 miles, in just their socks.
“He’s behind me holding onto the bike and I’m guiding him and guiding the bike,” Zink said. “We were coasting down hills. We developed a system on the spot to sort of skateboard along when it’s flat.
“It was improvisational,” he added. “A lot of these people are totally capable; they just need your help.”
Gaynor, 28, said she had raced in more than 50 triathlons individually since high school but preferred only guiding now. Her partners vary.
In May, Gaynor noticed a Facebook group for blind triathletes and posted a message inquiring if any needed a guide for the New York City Triathlon. Jan Ditchfield — the founder of an Ontario-based organization called Won With One, the only self-financed program for blind and visually impaired triathletes in Canada — responded.
Ditchfield connected Gaynor with Leona Emberson, whom she had never met before Friday, when Leona arrived and the two practiced a bit in Central Park. The crash-course training, Gaynor said, is part of the challenge.
“I think of myself as equipment,” Gaynor said. “These are competent, capable people, and they don’t want to have their hands held unless they need to. They wouldn’t be racing with me unless they needed to have a guide. So I want to respect the amount of independence that they want, but also give as much as help as they need.”
A few organizations, including Won With One, work with volunteer guides and pair them with athletes based on size, age and ability (most races enforce same-gender pairings). The athlete establishes the pace.
John Korff, the race’s owner, said the triathlon had averaged four to eight blind athletes each year since 2002. On Korff’s desk in his Midtown Manhattan office is a framed photograph of Gaynor finishing in 2008 with Kim Borowicz, who has tears streaming down her cheeks.
“The guide is giving that person the gift of the triathlon,” Korff said. “This is their sport, but they can’t do it alone.”
For 11 months of the year, Mikhail, 33, trains and races individually. But, after meeting Gardner, Mikhail said as long as Gardner still wanted to do it, he would never run the New York City Triathlon alone again.
“It’s Terry’s,” Mikhail said. “I feel like that’s his focus of the year. I would never be able to selfish enough to be like, ‘O.K., it’s about me now.’ There’s so much more to this now that running it by myself would feel essentially empty.”
If all goes well, six blind athletes will finish on Sunday, and their “eyes” will detach and walk away. The guides are not technically registered, nor are they recorded as finishers. The blind athletes receive most of the hugs and the handshakes.
The guides, those who steer, steady, tug, coach and motivate, only share in the internal reward.
“It’s their race,” Gaynor said. “If I can just help a person have their best possible race, so that they can cross the finish line feeling like they accomplished something, like the way I have felt when I’ve finished races, then that’s awesome.”
Here is a link to the original article:
Marine Corps veteran, Jared Rose, in his own words:
“I joined the Marine Corps in November of 2006 and became a Machine Gunner. I felt as if I had found my mission in life. In May of 2009, 2/8 Marines deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Khanjari. We all knew this was going to be a completely different ball game. We had multiple briefs on the enemy situation. 2/8 would be the “tip of the spear” heading into uncharted territory in the Helmand River Valley. We saw combat nearly every day. It seemed so likely that we would strike an IED, that it we joked about it. On August 2nd, 2009, I got hit by my first IED. I suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and some bumps and bruises. I was knocked out for about 10 minutes.
6 weeks later, on September 29th,, my vehicle was hit by another IED. It cut our vehicle completely in half. The truck was thrown in a front flip motion and landed topside down about 20 feet from the blast. My gunner and dismount were severely wounded. My driver was trapped underneath the steering column, but luckily only suffered minor injuries. I was left with another TBI, some superficial shrapnel, and other minor injuries. My Battalion lost 14 Marines on that deployment, and many more were severely wounded. My life was forever changed.
I came home from deployment and was a different man. After being wounded and sent to wounded warrior battalion, I was on a pharmacy full of medications, I felt like a zombie. For the first time in my life I was out of shape. I joined the WAR (warrior athlete reconditioning) program and started cycling to get back in shape. As I started getting more fit, I started realizing that exercise was absolutely crushing many symptoms I was dealing with. My headaches retreated, I was able to sleep (better at least), my rage and anger were being put into the pedals or the weights…and my depression had retreated.
Then came my medical retirement from the Marine Corps: I spent less time exercising and lost the sense of community I had in the Corps. Invisible wounds such as depression, nightmares, and bouts of rage re-surfaced. I felt overwhelmed with a sense of guilt. I still feel incredibly guilty that I walked away with such minor injuries compared to the other brothers in my vehicle and those in my Battalion who fared worse than me.
After growing so isolated since leaving Active Duty, I found a new purpose in life when I joined Team Red, White & Blue. Team RWB has not taken away my problems, but it has given me a purpose, motivation, and the ability to serve as a leader right in my new community. I am now the Veteran Outreach Director for the NYC chapter. This role enables me to reach out to other veterans who I know are struggling, but may not be sure what to do. I’ve been down that road and know what to do: Join me on Team Red, White & Blue and turn to the power of community and exercise to fight through life’s challenges.”
Jared Rose completed the Ironman U.S. Championship on August 11th, 2012 in a time of 12:44. His is a story of sacrifice, resilience and determination. Semper Fi, Jared.
I had reason to be afraid of competing in Ironman 70.3 Panama race. For four months, my training had been inconsistent at best, I was not accustomed to the heat, and I lacked mental focus and confidence. I had been struggling with a lack of motivation for what seemed like a very long time. Perhaps my years of racing had taken a toll on me. I feared that I would never regain the drive I once had.
I have been racing since I was 17. In 2008, I began racing as a guide for visually impaired athletes, which has become my passion. Over the past five years, I have mostly competed in triathlons as a guide. Though guiding is often more challenging than racing solo, at some point over the past few years I stopped feeling like the strong athlete I used to be. I know that I have created mental barriers, which cause me to doubt myself. However, my fears of failure and inadequacy seem very real to me.
In order to regain my sense of self, I know that I must train and race for myself, not just for the athletes whom I guide. Guiding will always be my number one priority in athletics, but I am doing a disservice to my athletes if I race when I am not functioning at my best, both physically and psychologically. Panama 70.3 would be the first Half Ironman triathlon that I would race solo in almost three years.
Though I registered in October, I did not fully commit to compete in Panama 70.3 until the week before race. After a conversation with a good friend I realized that I needed to complete this race in order to conquer my irrational fears.
Setting a personal record in Panama was out of the question. My goal was to avoid completely blowing up due to the heat and my lack of fitness. I knew I had to get to the starting line and smile for 70.3 miles, no matter the outcome.
The morning of the race, I felt surprisingly relaxed. I boarded the shuttle bus to transition with my mom and my new race buddy, Dana (whom I met 6 years ago at 70.3 Kona). Race setup was smooth, and Dana and I made our way to the pier where the race would start. I was thrilled to be walking along the Panama Canal. I knew that in a short time, I would swim in one of the Seven Wonders of the World. How could I not feel grateful for such an unbelievable experience?
A 30-minute delay in the race start time made me a bit anxious. In a race that was guaranteed to reach 90+ degrees Fahrenheit, every minute delay at the start meant another minute racing in the hottest part of the day. Despite the long wait, I enjoyed the company of my fellow racers.
What a positive, energetic group of people! There seemed to be dozens of photographers, perhaps in part due to the presence of the former Miss Panama, a strong triathlete in her own right. Women were dancing, laughing, smiling, and chatting with fellow competitors. One spunky triathlete said, “It’s simple: nadar, pedalear, correr…” She was right. It was simple. All we had to do was swim, pedal and run. Why did it seem so much more complicated than that?
All of a sudden, the wait was over. The announcer called the pro wave to the starting line. I could see the professional triathletes treading water between the buoys. In the background, huge cargo ships were sailing up the canal, making the swimmers seem incredibly small and fragile. When the pros went off, I knew that I only had minutes to prepare.
The women in the 18-35 age groups jumped into the water with 2 minutes to go and swam to the buoys. The water was cold, a pleasant surprise. I always prefer cold water to warm; there is nothing worse than exiting the water overheated.
The swim was a straight point-to-point course and there was plenty of room, so I didn’t have to throw any elbows (sometimes my high school water-polo-player self comes out in crowded swim starts). I swam conservatively and stuck to my own rhythm.
Before I knew it, I was making the left turn toward the stairs bringing the athletes out of the water and back to transition. With the current, my swim was relatively fast. I still finished middle of the pack, but my body felt good and I began to feel optimistic about the race.
Cycling is my favorite leg of a triathlon. I consider myself a cyclist. One reason I like guiding so much is that I can get on a tandem with a visually impaired athlete and ride a course without holding anything back. Confidence is critical. You have to respect your bike and the conditions of the road, but there is no better feeling than flying down a hill at 40 mph, passing jacked-looking men who are gripping their brakes…
Twenty kilometers into the race, I looked down at my rear tire and thought the pressure seemed a little low. I asked a guy who rode up next to me if it looked flat, but he said it seemed fine. I pressed on. I don’t mind being a mediocre swimmer because it’s really fun to catch people out on the bike course. And for a while, I seemed to be doing pretty well.
An hour into the race, however, the familiar feeling of my rim rolling against the pavement confirmed my earlier concern. My rear tire was flat. My first ever in a triathlon! Thankful that I had decided to pack a spare tire at the last minute, I pulled over and quickly removed and inspected the tire…. No glass or sharp objects. That meant I must have been riding with a very slow leak for a while. I don’t know how much time I lost riding with a deflating tire.
Crap! I had forgotten a CO2 cartridge. You can’t fly with CO2, so I didn’t put one in my bike box. I had to wait for the course mechanics. When they came by on their motorcycles, they helped change the tube and were preparing to pump it up when a second problem came to light. The stem on my tube wasn’t long enough. My Zipp 404s require either an 80mm stem or a valve extender. What a rookie mistake! I had assumed the tube I packed had the long stem….
Luckily, after searching through their gear, the mechanics produced a valve extender. What a relief to know that a minor equipment issue hadn’t meant the end my race!
While I waited for the mechanics to fix my flat, I watched dozens of athletes pass me. I was highly (in retrospect, overly!) motivated to catch everyone who passed me while I stood helpless on the side of the road.
I hopped back on my bike, motivated further by cheers from spectators on the roadside. For a while I was moving at a good pace, but the temperature was climbing.
I was able to drink water and finished a bottle of Perpetuem within the first 20 miles, but I couldn’t stomach much else. The discomfort from the heat, not having trained enough on my TT bike, and wearing an inadequately vented aero helmet were getting to me. I was passing competitors at regular intervals, but it was discouraging to see so many people heading back from the turnaround when I was still on my way out. With about 10 miles to go, I wanted nothing more than to stop my bike. With so much salt crusted on my shorts, I knew I was in trouble. I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery, but I was unable to ignore the pain in my neck and shoulders and the suffocating heat. I focused on keeping a smile on my face, hoping that if I looked like I was enjoying myself, I might start to have fun.
After more than 3.5 hours on the bike course (my normal time is well below 2 hours 50 minutes), I reached transition. At this point, I felt so terrible I was hoping that an official or volunteer would physically remove me from the course…. Please tell me I’m severely dehydrated and need an IV! But I knew that unless I was actually putting my health at risk, I couldn’t quit.
But boy did I want to. I have never started a run feeling so defeated. After a few minutes on the course, I saw my friend Dana finishing her first loop. She looked so strong…. I felt so weak.
But I began my 13.1-mile trek, still hoping that someone would tell me I was too dehydrated to go on, but knowing that I could suffer through the rest of the race. After about 6 hours, I turned my watch off. There was no point in looking at the time any more. In my wildest imagination, I did not dream that a this race would take more than 6.5 hours, even on a TERRIBLE day*. It just goes to show that you can never predict what will happen during an endurance race like this.
On my second lap, I met an entertaining Brazilian lawyer named Edison. We both complained about the difficulty of the course and I mentioned how slow my time would be compared to my normal performances Edison said something that resonated with me: “This is your new PR- your perseverance record.” What a wonderful way to look at a race like this. It would have been so much easier to quit, but we all carried on. If I finished, this would be my new perseverance record.
There were no mile markers (which might have been a blessing)- only markers every 3-5k. I couldn’t focus on anything. I had no rhythm. I ran when I could, but every time I was out from under shade, I felt my body shut down.
At the start of my second loop, I saw my mom again. She asked if she should meet me at the finish. I said yes, knowing that it would be a long time before I saw her again. I felt short of breath and tried to fight back tears. I wasn’t crying because of how I felt. I was crying because I was thinking about now hard it had been for me to even bring myself to show up for this race.
When I signed up in the fall, I did so with the hope that it would motivate me to get myself together, to start training and enjoy athletics again. Unfortunately, there was no race that could have pulled me out of my slump.
I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. I was grateful to be out on the course, no matter how slowly I was moving forward, I was making forward progress. Lately I have felt like my life is moving in slow motion. Often, I have have even felt like I was moving backward, regressing to a state of helplessness while everyone around me was moving forward and bettering themselves.
I realized at that moment that I have not been moving backwards. Slow progress is still progress. My finishing time in this race was the least important aspect of the event.
I would like to say that this revelation filled me with energy, that I ran the last 6 miles feeling stronger than I had at any point in the race, but that’s not how it happened. I continued to walk, running on occasion… Letting the minutes and miles pass by, trying to reach the seemingly unattainable finish line.
But the finish line did come.
After 7 hours and 12 minutes of swimming, biking and run/walking, I crossed the line. Yes, my time was more than 2 hours slower than my PR of 5:05. Yes, I wanted to quit at least 5 times during the race. But I had finished. I even managed to smile almost the entire time, which is what I promised my friends I would do.
This was a new start. There may be more setbacks to come, and I may have to start over a hundred more times, but I will start over. Again and again… Until I have the momentum to continue forward and pick up speed along the way.
*So the reader can better understand why it was hard for me to come to terms with racing a 7+ hour Half IM, I have put together a comparison of my times for Panama 70.3 versus the times from one of my best Half IM races. See below: