No Sight No Limits 2018 (1/16-21/18)

[Photo courtesy of Amy Dixon / Camp No Sight No Limits]

This was my second year going out to San Diego for Amy Dixon’s No Sight No Limits Camp. While it was a challenge to disconnect from everything else for the week, the return for doing so has been immense.

As a blind/VI athlete, trust is essential. You’re putting your life in someone else’s hands, trusting that they won’t lead you off course, into obsticles or wreck the bike. As I was having problems finding a guide, Amy helped me with that. While I hadn’t met Chris prior to camp, I trusted it would all work out well. And it did – in so many ways!

With both United Airlines and Southwest Airlines generously agreed to waive the bike fees, everything was set. A chance to leave the Chicago cold for a week in the San Diego sun? Absolutely – stop twisting my arm!

During the bike builds, we found out that my tandem wouldn’t work for us. I had thought it was a M/L frame; it’s actually a S/M frame. So we let a team that fit better to it use it and were on one of the Santana had generously loaned for use during camp. Being on a new bike, it sometimes takes a couple of rides to get everything adjusted, so our first group ride was with the seat too low. But it all got worked out.

Day 2 started with us in the pool, followed by bike skills on the grass/pavement and then a run session. During both this day and the following, Chris Huxley was doing individual stroke analysis with everyone. I am anxiously waiting the drills so that I can work on all of that with my coach. While this year the grass was much drier, the bike skills were still a challenge. I didn’t realize that the cover on one of my cleats had come off, so I had bent it while walking. Let’s just leave it at clipping in/out was no fun until Mike helped to switch them out after Day 2. During the run, the entire front piece of both knees started hurting really bad – icing afterwards helped that.

Day 3 started out in the pool again, followed by work on the Criterion course / drills and transition. Like new shoes, new cleats take some time to get broken in. So for Day 3, while the clipping in/out was better, it still wasn’t smooth. The Criterion course in a challenging, hilly course, and when you’re confident on it, is a lot of fun. But since I had fallen several times due to clip issues prior, it was a little bit of white knuckle riding. Thankfully we didn’t have to try and do transition practice in the hail agin this year! 🙂

Day 4 started out with swimming in Ventura Cove followed by a bike/run brick and then strength training. I’m very grateful to Xterra’s help in having a long sleeve wet suit. Trying to swim in the cove in a short sleeve one would have been a bad idea. It had been about 5 years since I’ve swum in salt water, and the salt taste from my mustache kept making it a little hard to consistently swim. But it was still fun, and I was looking forward to doing it again the next day. Going into the Criterion course fresh (no falls) made it much more enjoyable. Still a challenge, but no white knucles!

As we headed to strength training, it started to rain. When it rains hard in San Diego, it backs up into the ocean, and you can’t swim in it for 48-72 hours afterwards. A hard rain at Fiesta Island turned our Triathlon for Day 5 into a Duathalon. And post storm, there was a 20mph+ head wind across most of the bike course. But Chris kept us steady and moving forward on the bike. Both (shortened) runs got completed, and we finished strong.

Throughout camp, there were also lectures on bike maintenance, race prep, sports psychology (presented by Simon and Lesley – their book is available here), recovery (the Normatec boots are amazing), technology (including a really nice presentation by Craig from RunGo) and nutrition. Oh, and most importantly, post-race massages from Amy’s roommate who is a licensed massage therapist. 🙂

While there were hiccups and challenges during the week, I learned a tremendous amount. I have already been applying things learned there to my practices. And Chris Holley, who is a nutrition coach, has started helping me to tackle what’s been an ongoing hurdle. I am excited to see how the season turns out with putting all of this to use and to being back in San Diego in the near future!

You vs. You vs. You (11/30/17)

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” – Robert Burns

After an extremely long season, which started at Amy Dixon’s No Sight No Limits camp in Chula Vista and ended at Turnstone Dare2Tri’s camp in Fort Wayne, I had a plan for 2018. It involved having a little bit of a break and then hitting things hard. Having planned out an equally long 2018, I saw this as the best route for success.

But then a thunderstorm of personal stuff started and derailed that plan. It will all be great stuff in the long-term, but it derailed what I had planned. When this happens, you can either say ‘screw it, focus on X’ or you can come up with a Plan B (and in my case usually a C, D, … X) and move forward. This is the first half of the title of the blog, and the first battle.

I know it’s sometimes very easy to say ‘this sucks, I’m out’, but that’s not the right attitude. Even if you have to temporarily back away or radically move things around, there shouldn’t be a reason to sit on the sidelines forever. Not only will you miss out on a lot in life, but you owe it to yourself and those who’ve supported you to get back out there. See my Leaning Tower blog for an example of this. Things would have gone radically different for 2017 if I hadn’t won out in that you vs. you battle.

But once you win that first battle, it’s not over. It’s onto round two for you. It’s very easy to find ways to backslide, legitimate or not. You’ve managed to refocus, now it’s just staying on that new path. And I’ll be honest, that’s not always easy. But when you falter, all you can do is pick yourself back up and keep moving forward.

The most important piece of all this is to remember that while it’s an internal fight at times, it’s not fought on your own. You’ve got a tremendous support network that can help you (coaches, friends, family, etc.) when you need it. They’re there to support, encourage and drive you.

When December starts tomorrow, things will kick into high gear for me. My 2018 season starts early, and I need to be ready for it. While I know that the second part of the fight will continue all month, I know I’ve got the support to win it. And the motivation to keep moving forward through a challenge with friends.

Taming of the Chimp, Parts 1 & 2 – 1/28/17

Early in the month, I had started joining the local YMCA so I’d have a place to train during the cold. Today, I went back to finish the enrollment and get my first swim session in.

If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it; It’s just that simple. So I started putting things that I had learned at #CampNoSightNoLimits into practice today. During camp, Coach Ray spent a good amount of time working one-on-one with me on breathing and mechanics. Coach Simon talked with us at length about sports psychology and Coach Alan about nutrition.

It started in the pool with the breathing and stroking techniques that we had worked on. Even though I’m still not getting my left arm high enough up, I did notice improvements during the swim. I wasn’t feeling as tired as I normally do when trying to force 4 strokes or going 4-2-4 because I’ve run out of breath after the first 4. At about the 3/4 mile mark, Coach Simon’s speech came into play.

At that point, I was struggling and the technique was really breaking down. I was tempted to get out of the pool instead of finishing the full mile I had planned to do. I took a minute to relax, catch my breath and find a way to finish it. It was at this point that I muttered ‘fuck you chimp, we’re finishing this mile.’ I finished the mile and then did another 100 to show him who’s boss.

Once done at the pool, I headed to the store to load up on protein and other better foods. This was where Coach Alan’s lecture really helped. There are a lot of things that I got which I wouldn’t have before that I did, and a lot that I would have gotten before that I didn’t. The only thing I think that was ‘bad’ was the bag of peanutes. I got a lot of odd stares from both people in line and the cashier. But I don’t care; I just care about the results.

Back into the pool tomorrow and hopefully a strength workout as well.

Camp #NoSightNoLimits – 1/20 – 1/25/17

This all happened because I didn’t understand the rules. Yes, I know that’s an odd way to start a blog post, especially when I know a USAT/ITU official will most likely read it. But it’s the honest truth.

As a brief explanation for those of you who haven’t read the historical Triathlon blogs, what I mean is this. When I decided to do Triathlons, Terri was my intended guide. I thought the USAT rules about guide gender would throw a wrench into all sorts of plans, so I went looking for male guides. This eventually led me to several wonderful Facebook groups. What I found in the long-run was that I didn’t entirely know the rules. Meaning that for Regionals and above, the USAT set is inflexible; but for the smaller races there are some rules that Race Directors have latitude on (guide gender being one).

So even though it was unnecessary to have gone through all that at that point, it was good for the long-run. If I hadn’t expended the effort, I wouldn’t have met Amy Dixon, I wouldn’t have known about Camp #NoSightNoLimits, and I would have missed out on an AMAZING opportunity.

Since receiving my Golden Ticket the day before Thanksgiving, I had been getting things together for camp. Not just the material things (gear, nutrition, etc.), but also the physical base. Several workout sessions on the bike with clips proved to be frustrating but still a good step forward. And after scrambling around the week prior to camp, I left for San Diego ready to learn and get stronger, faster and better.

To say that there were bumps getting to San Diego would be an understatement. It started with my dad severely bruising or tearing a tendon in his arm as we tried to get the bike box in the car. The next hiccup was when I got to O’Hare and was told the bike fee wasn’t waived. Apparently the reservations people didn’t put their notes in. Once that was fixed by the supervisor, I made my way to the gate. I have been traveling alone for many years as my sight declined and have never seen a terminal so dark or struggled so much because of it. The best analogy I can give is that the power’s gone out and you’re powering things at 40% off of generators.

Having finally found the gate, I was able to get help with pre-boarding and thought it was smooth sailing ahead to San Diego. Unfortunately, I was wrong again. While I don’t know this as a fact, I am pretty sure that two of the engines momentarily cut out somewhere over Oklahoma. I say that because I felt the plane going downwards and then heard noises like a helicopter starting up. I was only a couple rows in front of the wings which is why I was able to hear it so well. Coming down out of the clouds in San Diego wasn’t much fun either. In turbulent weather, it was like the huge roller coaster drops.

While the trip to San Diego didn’t go as smoothly as planned, things did once I arrived. United’s ground crew helped to make sure that I got from the plane to a taxi with my bike/bags, and I made it to the hotel without incident.

As we didn’t need to be at camp until noon the next day, Luke and I went swimming at a local YMCA. In the outdoor pool, I did a little more than a mile before we heded back to get breakfast and get ready to head to Chula Vista. Upon arriving at the Olympic Training Center (OTC), we had a chance to meet other campers during lunch and then unpack while bikes were built by Mike.

The first workout was a 16 mile bike ride (8 out and 8 back). I had spent time working on clipping in/out and pedaling while clipped, so I was looking forward to getting out on the bike. Unfortunately things didn’t go as well as I had hoped – clipping in was a struggle and a real safety issue. The shoe/clip issue is one of the many tweaks that came out of camp and will make things better in the long run. Because of the safety concerns, I was on flat pedals for the rest of the camp.

After an entertaining evening in the room, the second day started in the pool. After doing warm ups and some open water drills, Coach Ray spent time helping me with stroke and breathing mechanics. That was a huge help, and something that I was very grateful for. We also figured out a better way to tether at the leg instead of the waist. This will help going forward so that I’m not hitting one of my arms during the stroke.

The afternoon found us on the lawn, on bikes and ready for an interesting bike skills workout. It had been raining for two days before and throughout. There was wet grass and mud – I’ll let you use your imagination as to how things worked out. We did get in a lot of good control drills, and I found something else to tweak on the bike. The seat seems to be too long and at one point it caught and tore the outer layer of the kit. We finished up the day on the track with all sorts of different running drills.

The next day started in the pool again since it had been raining. We were told that you have to wait 72 hours after it rains before you can go into the ocean. Knowing that there was a small window before leaving and a long bus ride, I packed my bag the night before. I was certain that I put my tri kit into the bag, but when we got there I couldn’t find it. Thankfully, Luke had an extra pair of shorts and I was able to be in the pool. Coach Ray helped more with the technique and breathing throughout the session, and it went well. Ending the session in a hot tub was a nice benefit.

Once back, we did some work on the track and then a transition clinic. Up to this point, it had been raining pretty much every time we’d been outside. This time Mother Nature decided to add insult to injury and added hail during it. We had to run for cover, but still did the clinic once it let up. I learned several things that will help going forward.

The fourth day started like the previous two in the pool. While it was a familiar place to start the day, the drills, format and focus were different. Doing hypoxic drills when you know it’s X strokes to a breath is bad enough. Doing them where you’re focused on not breathing for yards/meters is even worse. There were a couple of other drills that worked really well and will get incorporated as I continue training.

In the afternoon, we were out on the Criterion course. It’s a course built with hills, curves, ups-and-downs and more to test your skills. After several loops around, we did different drills (180s, starts/stops, and more), finishing with the slowest race on earth. At some point during the drills, I cut up my leg. I saw it and that was bleeding but just kept going. Minor injuries / hurdles will happen during a race; you deal with what’s an emergency and push through the rest. The evening finished with an opportunity to thank those who had helped make this experience possible after time in the weight room.

While I’ve talked about the workouts, that was only one piece of camp. Another was getting to meet and talk with the other athletes and their guides. Take a look at the NBC video to see and learn a little about some of them. Yet another was learning sessions. We learned about nutrition, guiding, rules and so much more from amazing and spectacular coaches. I learned a tremendous amount during these sessions that will help as I go forward. I’m not going to go into detail about these though – you had to be there.

Even though there were a few challenges, it was an amazing experience. Five days of being pushed to and then beyond your limits to continue getting better and stronger. I am so extremely grateful to everyone who made this possible – family, friends & CAF for providing support, Amy, Debbie and all of the coaches for camp and all of the amazing experiences/learning; Luke for being my guide/pilot and United for all of their assistance.

You can see a small snapshot of camp by viewing the NBC video!

I had an opportunity to spend time with a friend that I hadn’t seen in 20 years before heading home and family during a stopover. I was glad to make it back home, and am focusing on the next steps towards improvement for 2017!

Looking Both Ways – 12/31/16

I realize that it’s been more than a month since I posted last. It hasn’t been that there’s been nothing going on; far from it. Rather, I’ve been focused on laying down a foundation for 2017. This has included grant applications, fundraising and handling personal items. But as it’s New Year’s Eve, I wanted to look back on my 2nd year (and first full year) in Triathlon.

2016 had several high points, most notably being named to Dare2Tri’s Development Team for 2016 and receiving funding for a tandem (Erik). There were many times that I was pushed to and then past my limits, and saw improvements. But there were also some low points, including the double flat race and the double Half troubles.

As frustrating as those were, it both taught and tested the ‘bend don’t break’ mentality that I believe you need to have to succeed in any sport. It’s never going to go perfect 100% of the time; it’s how you deal with it that defines yhour outcome. It would have been VERY easy to tap out of Pleasant Prairie or either of the Halfs. But if I had, I don’t think I could have looked myself in the mirror or my coaches in the face. It’s just not in my DNA to give up unless you’re physically carrying me off the course because I can’t do so myself.

Even though I was focused on my own training and season, it was great to have diversions and build / strengthen friendships. The running joke of the blind leading the blind (me being legally blind leading my completely blind teammate) continued, and I had an opportunity to help the next generation at the PT Kids Camp.

All in all, a great year. I believe the total was 6 indoor tris, 6 outdoor tris, 1 8K, 1 5K, 2 Halfs and 1 50 mile bike ride. NONE of that would have beeen possible though without all of the help and support I received throughout the year. A HUGE thank you to everyone who has and continues to support me in my endeavors — Dare2Tri, coaches, guides, family & friends. And I’m also grateful to all of the RDs/ROs for their help throughout the year!

So now that I’m done looking back, it’s time to look forward. I’ve got several things in the works for 2017. As I get responses on them, I will share. But two things I can share now are:

1) I will start 2017 with my first ride on Erik on an indoor trainer. It will be in bike shoes clipped into pedals. Outside of the fittings, I’ve never ridden this way. And I had a tremendously hard time getting into the clips. But I’ve got less than 3 weeks to get more comfortable with that.

2) I will start my 2017 Triathlon season at Camp #NoSightNoLimits in Chula Vista in January. If you would like to help support me and my guide, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.

I hope you all have a Happy New Year!

Golden Ticket – 11/24/16


“I’ve got a golden chance to make my way
And with a golden ticket, it’s a golden day” (from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)

About two years ago, it all started with a simple goal – to find a male guide for Triathlon races (not knowing that local RD/ROs could waive that). But in that time, there have been so many unexpected benefits from the connections made from the original offshoot. Once of which was being made aware of an amazing Blind Triathletes camp (Amy Dixon’s #NoSightNoLimits camp).

I applied for the camp in early October, and received my Golden Ticket the day before Thanksgiving! I am extremely grateful for and exicited for this amazing 5 day camp experience. But I can’t just show up for it — there are two very important things that I need to do between now and January.

The first is to keep running consistently and increase my miles. Going into camp, I need to be at 15mph on bike, 1500m swimming and 5 mi running. The bike and swim are good, especially since a running joke among some of my teammates is about me not wanting to get out of the lake at camp. As running is the weakest of my 3, I know that this is going to be a challenge. But I know I can make it; especially after the improved performance at the Turkey Trot.

The second is to reach the fundraising goals. In addition to the camp costs, we’ve also got transportation costs to get there and back. If you would like to support Luke and me, please go to our fundraising page. As USABA is a 501(c)(3), all of your generous support of us is a tax-deductible donation. Even if you can’t support us, please share the link with family, friends and colleagues through social media, e-mail and your Christmas letters. Thank you in advance for your help with this!

I also want to give a big shout out to United Airlines for their help in ensuring that I’ll have my tandem with me for camp. In the past, I’ve looked for and used whatever airline offered the cheapest fare. But going forward, I intend to use United for all of my Triathlon related travel. I would strongly encourage all of my PT friends to talk with United about their travel needs after all their help!

This will truly be an amazing opportunity, and I’m extremely grateful to all that are making it happen!