As I reached out to the race director of a half marathon to inquire if I could run in the event, he informed me that yes, I could, however, he made it a point to inform me that unfortunately, the race did not have a blind or visually impaired division. He apologized, but said he would be willing to help me and my guide in whatever way he could. I was quite alright with there not being a blind division. I told him that I was not interested in measuring myself against other blind individuals. I merely wanted to measure myself against the course. He laughed and said he understood. That has always been the case with me. I have always been drawn to marathons, triathlons, and duathlons in order to test myself against me. That then begs the question why did I make one of my 2013 goals to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals? Why does it mean so much to me to qualify for that event held on Memorial Day as part of the CapTex Triathlon in austin, Texas? Have I changed my outlook about comparing my skills against the blind? No. Again, I have always stressed that I view myself as a sighted person who misplaced his sight. After all, I was born with sight so I do not see myself as a blind person. The reason I made Paratriathlon Nationals a goal is that I wanted to be one of the cool kids who race triathlons. Some of my dear friends do so and they are so cool! I have always enjoyed the finish lines at every triathlon. As I have always stated, the final shoot in my second New York City Triathlon remains the loudest most deafening roar I have ever experienced. The excitement and chills up and down my spine have never been matched. I also wanted the race to serve as a nice goal for improving my swim. I have always struggled with my aquatics ability. I have worked with several people over the years and they all say that within a lesson or two, it is clear I could swim. One friend even said that by the time I reached the halfway point in my first length the very first time he and I got together, it was clear to him I was a swimmer. Yet, I have always struggled to learn to breathe properly. The rest of my technique eventually breaks down and I have anxiety attacks which start only in the deep end, but after some time, I end up having anxiety attacks in the shallow end of the pool too. I use to think there was some larger psychological issue with me, but it may simply come down to breathing and learning to scull so that when I would try to stand up, I could feel confident that I could make my way to a wall or safety.
The goal was to attempt to get comfortable with the swim by late April to attempt to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals just before the may 1 deadline. Of course that also means I would have only one chance at making it. that would be plenty of pressure. the later I would attempt the better my odds at improving my swim. Then, in late February, I received a phone call from the Executive Director of the C Different Foundation. CDF is the organization which my friend Matt founded to enable blind and visually impaired athletes to compete in triathlons by pairing them with sighted guides. I always enjoy racing in events with Matt and the crew so I had to consider the opportunity presented to me which was to race in the C Different Triathlon at Telfair. The race director Patty Godfrey is a wonderful Ironman triathlete and a friend so of course, the chance to race in her event was enticing. Of course, my swim was not to the level I would have liked. Still, I should be able to swim 500 meters or at the very least find a way to make it through that distance in order to get on the bike to cycle ten miles then run 3.1 miles to complete the race. If I could complete that distance in under one hour and forty-five minutes, then I would in fact qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals. Here would be my chance to go to the CapTex Triathlon for a chance to finish in the top three at that race in order to represent the USA at the World Championship in London this September. First thing is first, I have to get through the swim at the C Different Triathlon. Everyone is confident in my ability to qualify because as David Adame, Executive Director, said to me when I asked if my race guide has been informed about my swim anxiety, "Yes, I told him you're not confident in your swim. I also told him you are a much better swimmer than you believe you are." My coach Jenna believes there is no reason I could not make it through that short of a swim without any problems. Patty also recently commented that I need only get through the swim then dig down and crush it on the bike and run and she knows I can. I also know I can too. The work Jenna has done with me to improve my bike and run has me confident that so long as I make it through the swim in a reasonable time, I should be able to in fact crush the bike and run as I know I can in order to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals. If I do, then I will have a reset of another ten weeks before I have to race again in austin. by then, I would like to think I would have been able to work on my aquatics in order to give myself a fighting chance at a top three spot. Even if I do not make it to the podium, the mere fact that I was on that course would be a victory.
In the end, my desire to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals has very little to do with measuring myself against other blind and visually impaired folks. It has mostly to do with a desire to push my limits. I want to know that I have been to the extreme. I want to reach greater heights than I ever have. I want to be able to smile knowing I have come a long way from that very first triathlon at New York when I spent one hour and twenty-four minutes in the Hudson River in order to make it one mile before jumping on the bike then running around Central Park on route to the finish line. I want to be able to laugh at what I have achieved because I kept pushing myself to improve my bike and run to the point where I can now close a half marathon guided by the lovely Jen Pfaff in such splendid fashion that I ran the final two miles in fifteen minutes when it took me fifteen minutes to run the first mile in my first ever half marathon with C Different at the AIA in Fort Lauderdale. I want to be able to laugh at how I am walking into this race close to twenty-five pounds lighter than I have ever been for any triathlon. I have Jenna Parker to thank for that. I want to be able to prove it to myself that on race day, I can bike and run faster than I ever thought possible. I want to qualify for Paratriathlon Nationals in order to personally validate what I have always felt in my heart, I can be one of the very fast ones. In grade school, I was just that. I always believed that had I not lost my sight, I could have been very fast in high school. I have always believed that deep inside the body that little boy who could fly still lives and is wanting to come out in order to show the world of what he use to be capable and of what he can still be capable. Qualifying for Paratriathlon Nationals is not about being one of the blind athletes or disabled athletes at the start line. It is about showing myself I was able to be fast enough to be able to race on a national stage. I use to be very fast. This would show me that with Jenna's help as well as other's help, I am on my way to be very fast once more.
On Sunday, March 17, I will test myself as Emmy Award winning writer and TV producer, Justin Sternberg takes time out of his daily life and training for Ironman Texas to guide me at the C Different Triathlon at Telfair. He is a tremendous guide and person. I am looking forward to the opportunity to race along side him and hopefully make even more memories as I take yet another step forward in my growth as a competitor.