Deaf-Blind Triathlete

author : tiridako
comments : 1

I had decided on doing an Ironman when I was in second grade, after my dad and mom left for Hawaii for two weeks so dad could do the Kona Ironman. Triathlon seemed to be the ultimate sport.

Having grown up with my dad doing triathlons and numerous Ironmans, I had always set my sights on doing an Ironman one day. My dad and I would often say, “You'll be the first deaf-blind woman to do the Ironman Hawaii!”

I had decided on doing an Ironman when I was in second grade, after my dad and mom left for Hawaii for two weeks so dad could do the Kona Ironman. Watching my dad was inspirational to me, and it really seemed to be the ultimate sport of any kind. It beats out doing soccer, basketball, gymnastics or ballet—all which I had done. I grew up on a swim team competitively with my two brothers and did that for about four to five years. Though rock climbing did come close to doing triathlons, as dad and I would do rock climbing at the local cliffs two or so times a week.

I also did cross country in High School for one season then track that spring and the swim team in the next year. Once we moved to Florida, I stopped doing anything physically. Reason being that I gravitated to using the internet daily, and hated the hot weather. I also didn't get involved in sports in my junior or senior years. Occasionally, I would go for a light run whenever I felt lazy, but that had been sporadic. I couldn't do any biking because I had been 'banned' from doing it on my own due to my low (gradual loss of) vision.

By this time I am now in college. But my dream from second grade had never really died. Every-time I heard about my dad doing yet another Ironman, yet another 70.3 half Ironman, and so on, the drive to do a triathlon was still there.

As a kid, I had done a few kid's triathlons. The last one I had done was when I was twelve, and it was a really hard one. I had never trained for any of the triathlons because I already had my stamina and endurance from doing other sports. However, the last one was hard in part because I did the bike singly and trying to get on the bike was really difficult, my legs felt like lead when I got out of water - I never experienced anything like it. A volunteer had to help me in getting on the bike, and while on the whole bike course, I was wary of any bikers or cars because I did not trust my eyes. As for the mile run, I walked the majority of it.

Anyway, since that time, I had not done any triathlons in the 'adult' division. After doing four years of college, I had finally come to the University of South Florida as a junior transfer student. Before I came to the school I found out that it had a triathlon club. I had no idea if it was an active club, or if it was just a support club, or if it was like a team. I hoped for the best and signed up online.

Soon, I got e-mails from the president, doing fund raisers and other things, and even a training schedule. On top of that, it even offered reimbursements to the first five triathletes for two races. Immediately, I knew, I could do it. The race was a month away, and I considered myself to be in okay shape, but not all that great. Just no energy.

I signed up for the Longleaf Triathlon north of Tampa and got into training.  My training at the beginning consisted of doing 1000 yards swimming, 20 minutes of biking and 1.5 to 3 mile runs. I told my dad what I was doing and wondered if he could guide me. An e-mail to the race director said that (in an article about guiding) the guide had to be the same gender. So that left me with my step-mom, who also had done numerous Ironmans.

When I first swam, I could not see where I was going at all. First, it was dark with really bad lighting, second, the three lanes had been taken up by swimmers so I was left to the side with no lanes cut off, third, I had a terrible pair of googles that I've had for the last five years, and they was badly scratched up and on top of that, it was a dark pair - not clear, making things even darker for me to see. My confidence in swimming out in open water fell, how was I going to spot buoys?

Fortunately, in the article about guiding, I found out that the guide had to be with the blind runner from start to finish, not just at the bike course using a tandem bike. Legal issue, I am guessing. Still, that boosted my confidence up and dad and I started talking about tethering me to Sheri, my step-mom. Thing is, we needed time to meet to practice swimming and biking together. Running, I would do by myself with Sheri on my right side (so that I can hear her with my Cochlear Implant)

Of all the sports I had done growing up, this would be my second time being guided by someone else in a sport. The first time was doing an Iceman Mountain biking event in Traverse City, Michigan with the distance of 27 miles. Well, I wouldn't really call that guiding since they did have a tandem division, so dad and I were a team. So that meant this would be my first time being guided in an individual sport.

As time wore on, I increased my swim distance to doing a mile in the pool nonstop, as being on the swim team growing up and once on the school team it helped with boosting my confidence in doing the swim. The only thing I wasn't sure about was the tethering part.

What I hated the most was the run, it was always very tiring each time I went for a run. Not only I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but I had to make sure all traffic was clear. Finding a route that eliminated car traffic altogether proved to be a challenge, but after using the, it really helped with finding safer routes as well as measuring distance.

During the first weekend of October, I came home to Dad's house so we could try out different things. On Sunday, after my dad and Sheri did a sprint distance triathlon on Seista Key beach, Sheri and I got ready to do a mile in the open ocean. Once I started swimming, I was on her left side, and the tether rope (made of stretchy rubber material) got in my way of my arms and I couldn't swim properly. I experimented with different ways of keeping the rope out of my way. Once I figured out that it would be best if she was on my right side, I began to swim better. I guess it's because I turn my head to the left for air, that the rope hindered me from doing my arm strokes clearly. After doing a mile in the open, with Sheri guiding me around bouys that separated beach swimmers from boat traffic, my confidence just kept growing. At the end, Sheri and I practiced running out of the water - and boy was I exhausted! Still, it was good to know what to do for the race that was coming up in two more weeks.

That night, Sheri and I practiced doing the tandem, and she had been nervous about using road wheels, as having never done any tandem biking before in the driver seat. So we used mountain wheels. Dad had said they would practice more on using the road wheels as that would make us go three mph faster than using the mountain wheels. On the bike I was really nervous on the turns, I thought we were going to fall, or graze our knees a la motor bicycle racer style. But we never did.

Once we got back to the house I got off and began running so I would get myself prepped for transitioning my body from biking to running as I had been doing at the gym whenever I biked.

Throughout my training, I had wondered if I wasn't doing enough training as I had only got into it a month before the race. But I put my thoughts away, excusing it as that I had always been athletic, even if I had never done it regularly. I had my dad for semi-coaching me then on...or rather, I forced him to coach me by calling him with whatever questions I had about something (which wasn't often).

The weekend before the race, I went on a retreat with my Campus Crusade for Christ organization. But on Saturday, something terrible happened. After I went kayaking and put my life jacket and paddles away, I went back down the hill where the shed was situated at the beach. A wood bench separated the ground from the sandy beach, and it had a foot and a half drop into the sand. I was going down the hill a bit too fast and lost my footing, falling forward, hitting my knee right on the edge of the bench and my head into the sand. The fall had been so hard that if the sand had been any harder, I would have had a concussion. All my attention was on my knee, and for the first ten to fifteen minutes all I could think was: “My race! Is my knee shattered? I can't move my knee! Am I going to be able to do the race? What do I do?”

While I was thinking those thoughts my knowledge of sports medicine kicked in, I kept my knee elevated as I waited for someone to bring the ice. A woman had seen me fall and was saying soothing words, to keep breathing and that helped a lot. A guy brought back the ice and then applied it to my knee for a minute. Then I was told that I should get up and I refused, not wanting to injure myself further. I was terrified of moving my knee.

But once they got me up, I realized it didn't hurt that much and tested my weight on it and it didn't hurt at all. I walked over to the edge of the water where my sandals were and I walked fine. However, I knew the pain would come later so I iced it like mad, thankful that the knee was not shattered. A visit to the doctor on Monday had confirmed that it was only a (terrible) bruise on my patella ligament (below my knee). He also said to use my best judgement when I asked about doing the triathlon.

I then called my dad with what happened to me on Saturday and he said to take it easy. It was just a good thing that it was the taper week. And to also keep icing my knee twenty minutes on, and twenty minutes off as much as I can which was what I did occasionally throughout the week. He said to swim first (on Tuesday), then bike the next day, and run on Thursday to see how I was doing. I was glad to report that my knee did great in all three sports. Unfortunately that night on Thursday, I had injured my same knee by walking into a hydrant (after forgetting to bring my blind cane to the football game that night), I developed a nasty bruise and wondered again if I was going to do the triathlon at all. It seemed that I kept re-injurying my knee all that week.

However, I knew it was a bruise, I didn't let my confidence waver for the race. However, a few people had wondered if I was well enough to do it.

The next day I got a call from my dad, saying that someone wanted to do a news story on me. I was elated, finding yet another motivation to do triathlons. I knew that, along with this, would be inspirational to others. Nothing can limit us if we put our minds to it. However the taping would have to be done later that week, and yet I knew that this was just the beginning. Having read all kinds of stories about other triathletes pushing themselves, I wanted to inspire even more people.

Keeping that in mind—the fact that someone wanted to do a story on me—spurred me on to even being more set in doing triathlons. I wanted to do this for Jesus, for others, and for myself.

Saturday night I gathered my things, having gotten a new pair of shoes from my dad as a birthday present two weekends ago (and broke them in as not to cause blisters) as well as new pair of goggles. I couldn't wait for the next day. Earlier that day, my mom and her family came up to visit me, took me to pick up the packet and helped me pick out some swimsuits as I did not have any single piece for me to race in. Dad called and told me what to do for tomorrow morning. His key words were: hydrate, hydrate and hydrate.

However, the biggest fear of all—was waking up. If I woke up, then everything would go smoothly. I have a noisy roommate upstairs so I chose not to wear my cochlear implant to bed, and that limited me to how I would wake up. I had my Shake Awake alarm, but it only shook for one minute. If you slept through it you're doomed. Or that's how I thought. So I had only a one minute window of waking up. I had my team, my dad and Sheri and everyone at the race to keep me accountable. But I've always had a terrible time of waking up, and this was really nerve-wracking for me.

Throughout that entire evening, I kept telling myself to wake up early, to wake up at 4:30. Or else.

Having gone to bed at 10 pm, I slept soundly. When I woke up some hours later, I panicked as I always did when I had a time to wake-up by and then searched my room for the time. With my heart beating wildly, I saw that the time was only 3:43 am. I sighed of relief and stayed in bed thinking about the race for the next hour. I had fallen asleep again and when I woke up, I panicked again, thinking I missed my alarm clock.

I did. My alarm clock never woke me up. However, with a look at my phone, it was only 4:45 am. Phew. I had less than 20 minutes to get out of my dorm.

While I got ready I called my dad to let him know that I woke up. I knew the outside would be frigid, at a mere fifty-one degrees, I looked at my furry hat I bought for a football game and put it on since it would keep me warm. I also layered my clothes after I put on my suit. I wouldn't be bothering with changing on-site.

Trekking the long walk to the gym where we all would meet for a carpool, I kept visualizing what I would be doing in the swim, where I would seed myself—to the left side of the wave—and how I would transition in both T1 and T2. I didn't have much of an imagination, all I could see were snap shots of me on the bike and on the run. Swimming, I could see clearly in my mind, having done the swim with Sheri in the ocean and seen pictures of the lake from the race director in an e-mail to all triathletes.

I met with a guy who was going to the race to cheer us on as we drove there. At one point, we drove too far and turned around. I was getting a little nervous, wondering if we would have time to do everything we would need to do, as we needed to be there at 6:30, and it was 6:25 when we had gotten lost.

Just as we were close to the parking lot, my dad called and we soon found out that his car was two cars in front of us. We also then saw the tandem on the back of the red car and my spirits lifted. We weren't there late.

When we got to the transition area, I got body marked and my mind flashed back to the times I had been body marked as a kid, and I welcomed the feeling of nostalgia. Officially, I was in this race now.

Sheri also got marked with my number as she was my guide, then we both went to our area and set things up with the tandem. I was a bit confused at first about how to go about things in the semi-dark of morning, though the flood lights helped a lot. Then a guy said we could move our tandem to another place so that we could have more room for the bike and two towels. Feeling more confident, I set things up in the order I would reach them.

Then I used the port-a-potty. All that hydrating makes for one needing to use it more often and hoped that it was the last time I needed it until after the race. I had no clue how long my race would take. Two hours? Three? I never saw the statistics or averages for sprint distances so I was totally clueless. All I knew was that my dad and Sheri could do them in less than 55 minutes. But that was their averages—the elites.

All I knew was that I just wanted to finish the race, and worry about the time next year. That was my end goal for this race.

Once the sky lightened, we walked over to the lake and I began stretching and warming up by running around. Sheri also told me where we would be mounting and dismounting, as well as where we entered and exited the water. That helped a lot for orientating myself.

Looking out at the lake, we all agreed that it did not seem like a quarter mile swim, more like 300 yards. So then I figured that it would take me about ten minutes at most to do the swim, and I felt better.

After announcements were made, we soon realized that everyone would be going in one person at a time - not in waves. That was new to me, but then I recalled in an article two nights ago—having wanting to read more about triathlons in general—that some race in Florida did this. Now that I think on it, maybe it was this race? Anyway, each person went in every two seconds. First was the international distance, and each person went in the order of their race numbers, from first to last. I knew that our chip would tell our exact time, so I didn't worry about people seeding first or last. I just focused on not trying to freeze to death, and Sheri was even worse with the cold so I tried to keep her warm.

When my time came, I held onto Sheri's hand and ran into the water. My first thought was how warm the water was! I dove in, happy not to have to worry about crashing into people. I recalled how I swam in the ocean with Sheri and immediately got into my rhythm, trying not to get water up my nose or drinking any of the water. Fears of amoebas were always at the back of my mind. Somehow, the water ended up in my nose anyway, but I tried not to worry about it, as statistics of them were rare. Twigs were everywhere and the water was just so warm compared to the air. Not having to spot freed me on solely focusing on my form and to keep on swimming. Towards the end, people from the international distance were swimming over us and one even got tied up in our rope which took us about five seconds to disentangle him so he could keep on swimming. Others just swam over the rope like it was a slide.
Once we got out of the water, I ran holding onto Sheri as I felt disorientated from the swim. Nearby the gate I saw my dad and grabbed my cochlear implant and kept on running to the transition area. I never thought a trail to the transition area could be so long, but this one was. Finally entering the transition area, I saw a kiddie pool filled with dirty water and hopped in for literally a second and kept running to the bikes. We both got the rope off and began to get shoes on as Sheri tossed the helmet on my head. The socks took awhile to put on as well as the shoe laces did too. Once we were ready, I got up and buckled on my helmet and followed Sheri with the tandem to the mounting area. On the count of three, we got on and rode off.

I felt more confident that I didn't have as much difficulty with the bike as I did back when I was twelve and kept on pedaling. A lot of bikers from the international distance kept passing us, and we passed maybe two bikers on the entire course. It was mostly flat with minor hills at the halfway point. Then again, Florida towards the ocean was mostly flat. I hydrated a few times on the course.

When we dismounted we ran back to the transition area and we took the helmets off. I wondered what to do as I had put on the race number belt, needing to wait for Sheri to change into her running shoes. Do I leave without her and wait for her to catch up? I knew she could catch up easily, but I didn't want to wait an extra twenty seconds. I almost ran off with indecision, but Sheri told me to wait. Then we both ran and I was not sure where to go. Left or right?

We took the same path as we did for the bike course and I realized it was the sidewalk along the road we used for biking. The run was going to be the hardest part I knew. Not only had I swam and biked, but running was also my weakest event. I was also not sure how to pace myself, having not truly learned how to do it in cross country. Still I based my experience off that. After the first mile there was an aid station and I took a cup. To my surprised it was warm water. Wasn't it supposed to be cold? I took a few sips and cleaned my mouth as I spit some out. I did that two more times at other stations as I kept myself going.

For some reason, I never thought to start walking and I knew I had to keep going. I guess it was because Sheri was always on my side, cheering me on from the moment I put my cochlear implant back on after the swim. Her words only encouraged me to keep on going. A few times, she thought she saw the finishline so I would push myself faster and then realize it was a mistake. I'm not sure if she was genuine or not, but it sure helped.

A few more turns around the road, I saw an ambulance waiting, and I knew the finish was just around the corner and picked up my pace even more. Then, there it was, the finishline less than twenty feet away! Sheri grabbed my hand and ran faster, almost pulling me to run harder. I never heard the announcer call my name, but all I knew was that I finished. I kept on running past the finish line, needing to slow down first, but I finished. Another thing that later came to mind, my knee never bothered me even once - for which I was glad.

I felt out of balance once I stopped and people asked if I was okay. I was, but just needed to readjust to not keeping in motion. Then I saw the president of the USF Tri Bulls Triathlon Tream and we congratulated each other. We had seen each other on the run course and she, of course, passed me.

After some food and a massage, the president informed me that my time was 1:16 and that I had placed sixth out of ten girls in the collegiate division for college women. I was shocked. I wasn't last? Really? For the awards, my president got second place in our division.

I still couldn't believe I placed sixth. I've always placed last in triathlons when I was a pre-teen. How was this possible? I felt elated.

Later that day, I got the e-mail from race director about our race results and time splits.
Total: 1:16:23    
Swim rank and time: 8    7:24    
T1 3:51    
Bike/T2 rank and time 2   31:10  
Run rank and time 8 33:59

When I did the comparison to my age group, I realized I could have placed third. I became even more elated. Now, if the college women my age also competed in the age group, I would have place sixth out of 11 girls my age (20-24). I was still impressed with myself, being better than half the girls. I realized then, that this was possible. I really could go for an Ironman and not place last.

My deaf-blindness did not hinder me, except for some temporary loss of balance due to my deaf-blindness on the run course, which Sheri helped me steady. She had also helped me to move to the right so runners could get past me on my left or I would have never heard them coming otherwise. So as it turns out, having Sheri guide me on all three sports had helped me tremendously. I would have gone off of a sidewalk a few times otherwise. So, since I finished this race, I now know that my dream of Kona Ironman is not just a dream, but a realistic I plan on accomplishing within two-three years.


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date: January 8, 2010