June 18, 2017, the date of the Ottawa Triathlon where people from all-over come to Ottawa to race internationally. You have elite, age group and para athletes (visually impaired, paralyzed…) trying to put out their best efforts out there to see what they are capable of. This is my first race as a guide for a visually impaired athlete (her name is Jessica) and the fourth time riding a tandem bicycle with her.
Go back 4 weeks and that is the time that I offered to help out guiding for fun. I got asked that if the chemistry worked well between Jessica and me, if I was open to do the international triathlon in Ottawa. Thinking that this race occurred at the same time as last year, in July, I said no problem, should be fun.
The only thing is that the race was not going to happen in July, it was going to happen in June … that meant that we did not really have much time to get to know each other and grow together. Started asking questions to her usual guide, some friends of mine who have guided athletes on tandem bicycles and started visualizing and keeping on training.
Fast-forward to Friday, June 16th and we got our racing tandem bike and got fitted in the morning. The goal was to stay clean and just get some sort of experience in the racing field. The fun part is that I had never swum as a guide before in a triathlon. Let’s just say that there are many opportunities for me to improve there.
I am used to being pretty quick in transitions where I take off my wetsuit in the water as I get out and usually run. The only thing here is that, there were stairs and well, I had someone I had to guide through those stairs so we walked as fast as possible and kept it safe.
For the biking part, the habit is, run with the bike and jump on it … you cannot do that on a tandem unfortunately but happily enough, the start of the cycling was very smooth and we went forward and killed it on the bike averaging 36.5kph, pretty cool for our first race together I must say. My goal was to stay calm for Jessica and I did. There were a couple of crashes on the course which she did not need to know so well, she never really found out, we were only passing people (white lies don’t hurt anyone right?).
For my favourite part of racing, which is running, there is so much that I learned there. It’s almost like guiding a horse really, pay attention to their breathing, to their strides and they don’t need to know how fast they are going … my mistake there was that I gave her too much information on the pace and it scared her a bit. What I have learned is that you are in control of the pacing no matter what and you are the one adjusting the speed if it needs to be adjusted … not the other way around.
This race was a lot of fun and very stimulating mentally. It is very interesting how much tactic comes to place when you are guiding a visually impaired athlete. It feels much different than the tactic you are doing when you are racing solo and it feels very rewarding seeing them crossing the line at a sprint and feeling excited about their results. It also feels great when they find out they did a personal record.
My question for you is the following. Have you ever participated in a sporting event to support a friend, a loved one, regardless of their abilities and disabilities? That is another great way to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person and as an athlete. It gives you another purpose. It’s not just about you anymore, it’s about supporting someone you care for and helping them reach their goals.
On that, happy training!