What is it like to lead a 100% blind athlete through an Ironman Triathlon

August 17, 2017 8 Comments

What is it like to lead a 100% blind athlete through an Ironman Triathlon

Have you ever wondered? Been curious?

"I drop kindness pebbles in still water everyday, and I watch the ripple effect they have on other people’s lives. You never know the effect that you may have on someone or some thing with the kindness that you exude today." - MM

On Saturday August 5th I led Kyle Coon through the Ironman Boulder 70.3, which is a 1.2 mile swim in a lake, a 56 mile bike on a tandem, and then finished with a half marathon run of 13.1 miles. Kyle and I completed the entire course in 5 hours, 11 minutes. A one hour PR for Kyle.

Kyle is 25 years old. When he was 10 months old he was diagnosed with Bilateral Retinal Blastoma which is a cancer of the eyes. After many tries for a cure, the doctors removed his left eye at age 5, and his right eye at age 6. Kyle has prosthetic eyes, meaning he is in total darkness. Kyle raced the Boulder Half Ironman in complete darkness.

You can read Kyle's race report HERE.

Or, you can watch our short 4 minute recap video of the day below.

As many of you are not aware, Kyle is not the first to complete this task. Blind and visually impaired athletes started to compete in Triathlons back in the early 2000's, with Heidi Musser being one of the first.

Heidi and I 2002 in LA before the Malibu Tri

Heidi and I did our first race together in September of 2001 at the Malibu Tri. We again raced in October at the CAF Triathlon Challenge (Put that race on your bucket list, it will change your life perspective forever).

In 2002 we again raced the same two events, Malibu and CAF.

In 2003 is when things started to heat up. We raced the Olympic Distance of Wildflower (another bucket list race) in May, which lead to an invitation to be the featured athletes for CBS to compete at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. (Holy Bucket List) If you aren't aware, it's a 1.5 mile swim across the shark infested San Francisco Bay, then 18 miles on a hilly bike, ending with an 8 mile run. (When you're a swimmer like me and used to being first out of the water, yet you tread water in the bay with your feet dangling below for 90 minutes and it's 50 degrees, ugh. Talk about freak out)

Because of all this racing, more athletes who were visually impaired began to reach out to me, asking for help and assistance. So we formed a little squad and called ourselves the C Different Athletes. Our title Sponsor was a Nutrition Supplements company that I was working for, Pinnacle, which gave me the idea to bring sports supplements into the Triathlon world. If you look on the bottom right under ACLE, you will notice the Rudy Project logo. Rudy Project has supported me and my crazy adventures for 14 years now, hence why I will always support them and never jump ship.

Malibu Tri 2003: Our First Team

This new wetsuit company just came out to market and my good friend Keith owned it. Gave us all wetsuits and asked if we could take pics and post on this new website that was growing called Myspace.

As we continued race more, so did our team. Our athletes got better. Faster. Articles were written. It was a lot of fun.

Our 2004 Team: Malibu Tri

If you notice the NRG Nutrition on the kits. That was the first attempt at creating a BASE Performance but in 2004. We were WAY ahead of our time with Electrolytes and products for Triathletes in 2004. NRG was around for a year. 

In 2005 we made made our little team official and became the C Different Foundation. You can watch this short 3 minute youtube video about the organization here.

 

We produced a documentary film titled "Victory Over Darkness." We toured all of the film festivals which was awesome.

In 2005 we took 5 blind athletes to Ironman Couer d'Alene in June. This was unreal. My athlete, Heidi, finished in 16 hours, 51 minutes. That was a looooong day for me, but one I will never ever forget. 

2005 Ironman Coeur d'Alene Crew

So how do we do it?????

 

Swim: We are tethered together with a bungee. 

Bike: We are on a tandem. Full Rudy Project Sunglasses and Helmets.

Run: We are back tethered again around the waist. You can barely see it in the above picture. We were running 6:30's in this pic. 

In some crazy but awesome instances, I have ridden a mountain bike, not a tandem mountain bike, around my athlete through an XTERRA off road Triathlon. And my job is to call out all turns, ruts, rocks, etc. I'm not kidding.

Here is a video I made of a training day with my friend and athlete Michael Stone from Colorado Multisport in Boulder (Bucket List store for you to visit if you are in town)

For the most part, we just like to have fun when we are out there. Sometimes it is very very serious. Like when I guided Aaron to a 4:18 in 2009 at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Holy cow that was unbelievable.

We've lead athletes through World Championship Races

      I guided Aaron Scheidies to an ITU Olympic Distance World Championship in Switzerland in 2006

Charlie Plaskon and I racing in Kona in 2007

       Sometimes we guide young athletes such as 12 year old Jacob Goldberg (Now a Harvard Graduate)

 Sometimes we guide extremely extremely smart blind Attorneys through Ironman Coeur d'Alene in 2008

 Sometimes we guide when it's like running on the Sun at Disney Half Ironman in 2008 and we make dumb duck lips with our mouth

Sometimes when we show up for a race in Canada to lead a blind athlete we are given not so great bikes, but we make due for the 56 miles anyways.

Other times when we don't have a bike we decide to make a go with it and see how much fun we can really have during the Denver Tri in 2011.

Sometimes we guide crazy hot and humid marathons in Houston in 2011 (This is where George Bush normally cheers us on. He just missed his only photo op with me. I bet he's sad. - My quote from that day)

 

Wherever we go, whenever we race, whoever it is with (Brandon Adame with Nigel Willerton at Galveston 70.3 2011)

 

We are always smiling at our accomplishments (Charlie Plaskon with Justin Sternberg at Finish Line of Ironman Texas 2011)

And amazingly proud of all that we have done (Patricia Walsh with her guides Sonja Wieck and Michelle Ford after she finished in 11:50)

Sometimes life comes back around at your full circle and you don't even realize it (Brandon Adame with Adessa Ellis - Adessa was hit by a car last year and had to have her leg amputated. She is now training for the Paralympics with Team Catapult in Houston)

A lot of amazing things have occurred since 2001 when Heidi and I took that initial plunge into the Pacific Ocean with the unknown of what the future held.

Female Blind Athletes competed in the Paratriathlon at the Ri Games (Elizabeth Baker with her Guide Jillian Petersen - side note - Jill was introduced to Guiding in 2006 at the World Championships when I was there with Aaron)

 New athletes are making their dreams come true such as Blind & Deaf Athlete Andy Garcia with his guide Jarrett Hubert at the 2014 Ironman Texas.

World Champions are still World Champions like Aaron Scheidies and Ben Collins

 New organizations to help lead Blind Athletes through races have developed such as Catapult here with Jarrett Hubert, Chris McLendon and Blind Athlete David Kuhn at Ironman Texas 2017

But in the end, it's all about having fun.

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In closing, I ask you this. "What are you made of?" 

Will you be remembered? Did you make a difference in someones life? Your children's lives. Your family. Your training partners. 

What can you do today that will have an impact on the future. What seeds will you plant.

If you followed along you will note how often what goes around comes around.

I wish each and every one of you who read this entire post the absolute best in what you do. Go out there today and make a difference. Be impactful. Change someones life. 

It's not about just guiding someone through a race for 5 hours, it's about making a difference.

It's about the ripple effect.

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If you want to get involved yourself, feel free to shoot me an email to matt@baseperformance. I know of all the resources, and trust me, there are hundreds of Blind and Visually Impaired athletes who would love to go on a training ride or run with you. Or jump into a race. Let me add, YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE A SUPER ATHLETE. You just have to have patience, and willing to put in the time.

Below are some additional pictures I have collected of my friends over the years and their accomplishments. If I missed some of you I'm sorry.

 

My buddy Erich Manser crossing the Ironman Florida Finish line 2015 in 11:10.28. The current fastest time ever for a blind athlete.

My buddy and another pioneer for the Blind athletes Richard Hunter after finishing Ironman Florida in 11:55

 

My good buddy Ryan Van Praet from Canada and his guide Syd Trefiak. These two would be multiple world champions if Aaron wasn't always racing. 

Here is Lindsey Jessup Wright, Aaron Scheidies and Sarah Reinertsen at Escape From Alcatraz 2004

Kyle Coon and I on a training ride.

   My buddy Amy Dixon who is also breaking down barriers and racing all over the world.

Sometimes I let my friends guide when there is NO WAY I can make it 26 miles, plus I'm supposed to be passing out BASE, on the Run Course, of the 2014 Chattanooga Ironman. So, Tony Demakis took over and guided Liz Baker.

Picture here at the 2009 NYC Triathlon with Kim Borowicz, Caroline Gaynor and Mark Griffin. Caroline as been an amazing advocate for the blind and visually impaired athletes. I think she has surpassed me in total Full Ironman Guiding.

Here I am trying to keep up with my athlete in 2009 during Andy's 30K in Sugar Land TX where Mark Griffin was dropping me.

Here is Tina Ament and Caroline Gaynor at the 2010 Chicago Triathlon. Tina will be racing RAAM in 2018. (Race Across AMerica)

My buddy Dave Bigoney being guided by Desiree Ficker at the 30K. Desiree was 2nd overall in Kona 2006, but she gives back when she can.

 

This Raw Emotion of Achievement on Israel Antonio's face and in his body at the Cap Tex Triathlon with Justin Sternberg.

Last one just for fun. This pic was the last time I was an athlete at Ironman Couer d'Alene. I guided Richard Bernstein there. We fundraised $180,000 as part of the Ironman Foundation. Fitting that I will be racing here again in 9 days for the last time this race will be going on.





8 Responses

Jeremy McElliott
Jeremy McElliott

October 24, 2017

True character is shown in the value we show towards others. BASE Performance truly is a giving company. I look forward to supporting this great company well into the future. Wow!

Rose
Rose

October 06, 2017

I am super impressed of the dedication, time and passion you have for the athletes and also learning more about the origins of Base Performance! Kudos for giving so much to so many!

Ceci Johnson
Ceci Johnson

September 09, 2017

I am so impressed with everything that you did. I am really appreciate to be part of Base Performance

Candice
Candice

August 17, 2017

So impressed by your nature of giving!
Just awesome! Proud to be a part of your vision of Base Performance

Francisco irigoyen
Francisco irigoyen

August 17, 2017

Amazing!

I thought you were a good person after spending time with you, this really showed me how generous and humble you are!

Thanks!

Raciel D
Raciel D

August 17, 2017

Amazing, self-less, and kick arse, Matt & friends! I’m humbled and glad to be a small part of this wonderful company.

Veronica
Veronica

August 17, 2017

So hard honored and privileged to call you my friend. Thank you for all you do Matt.

Susan
Susan

August 17, 2017

I couldn’t be more proud to be your friend and a small part of your life – I’m glad we are buddies – you rock my friend :)

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