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Louie and Todd on the Tandem Bike.  Training.

“There is a very blurry line between the things we can’t do and the things we can.” -Erik Weihenmayer

You know how when you really like something you can’t stop talking about it? Even when it seems like everyone else is tired of hearing about it, there are always a few that continue to eat it up and then you know you are planting seeds for the future.

Last September I completed my first Ironman triathlon in Wisconsin after a long summer of training and saying no to virtually everything else. Through the long hours of training and the blur of race day, I discovered a lot about myself including the realization that I am stronger than what I thought I was and that I could do anything I set my mind and body to. I’d like to think my stories peaked Louie’s curiosity with triathlons, I already knew that he liked to push himself and try new things.

The triathlon community is pretty unique in that it is amazing at promoting itself, inspiring others, and being generous to anyone interested in giving it a try. At most races that I have done, there have been athletes with various disabilities competing and it has always inspired me. At Ironman, there are triathletes pulling athletes in kayaks, biking with athletes in trailers, and running with athletes in strollers. There were also visually impaired athletes that had guides with them. I knew this is something that Louie and I would need to do together…a triathlon!

I approached Louie with the idea of competing in the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis earlier this spring. Without hesitation, he said yes and we began our planning. As we have been training on a tandem bike, I have been challenged with my responsibility as Louie’s guide. It is a huge responsibility to literally be the eyes of this partnership and it has made me realize the importance of communication, each and every word of it. We have established our language for various road conditions and elements of the ride. Calling out bumps in the roads, shifting up and down, braking, coming to a stop- “feet down in 3-2-1”, turns, and more. When I was riding alone, my brain just did this automatically and I didn’t have to let myself know what was going on. Now I do with Louie and it is a whole different perspective and responsibility that requires strong verbal communication. For most sighted people, we take this for granted as we can use our vision to easily adapt to situations and conditions while riding a bike. Our communication isn’t always about the ride, we have enjoyed conversations about triathlons, jobs, and life in general. There is no shortage of things to talk about while on a bike and as a middle school counselor I value the voice of youth with it’s optimism, adventure, and ideas about the world.

Our next training venture challenges us with swimming while tethered to each other. We devised a tether that attaches to an ankle and has a 2 foot rubber band in between. Communicating while swimming is not an easy task and we are trying to figure out the best way for me to communicate directions to Louie while swimming. This will likely involve tugging on the tether lead. Louie needs to be in lead position for the swim, so I will be trying to direct him from his side. Louie pointed out that I need to be more visible to him while in the water. My black wetsuit is the exact opposite of highly visible. I am going to try a neon sleeve or shirt to improve visibility during our next swim.

It will be a similar set up for the run portion of the race, Louie needs to be in lead and we are going to use a waist tether. He is comfortable with running on roads as he does that for his track practices. Perhaps the biggest challenge for him will be having me slow down his pace and running in packs of other triathletes. Communication will again be important during this leg of the race too. There will be times when we are passing or being passed by other athletes, when the path conditions change, or there is some need to change our pace or course.

What I am looking forward to the most is the experience of racing with a visually impaired athlete and the perspective that it will give me as a first time guide. Of course Louie and I are also competitive and we want to challenge each other. The mission of Louie’s Vision to bring awareness, build confidence, and increase accessibility for visually impaired young people and we hope that our doing this triathlon will plant the seed for someone else. I think this is going to be epic for both Louie and I. We will make sure to let you know how our first triathlon together turned out!

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