By GDB Alumna Cindy Rogers
This past May, I received an email from C Different Foundation’s founder, Matt Miller, asking for my possible participation in an event as a blind or visually impaired athlete. Well, I do run a few 5K races each year, but does this qualify me as being an athlete?! But the phrase that caught my attention - “All you have to do is get to New York City” - piqued my interest. What would I need to do once I reached New York City?
The email from Matt continued [paraphrased]:
“Recently, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) announced that they are requiring all visually impaired athletes, no matter what your level of visual impairment may be, to wear blackout goggles during the run portion of a triathlon. The ITU is changing the rule because they state there are not enough blind/visually impaired athletes competing in sports, therefore, [the blackout goggles are being required] in order to level the playing field. My proposal stated that the C Different Foundation will provide the following to all blind athletes who wish to compete at the NYC Triathlon, which is the paratriathlon US National Championships:
- Cover the cost of the entry fee for each athlete
- Coordinate and cover the cost of transporting your tandem through Tri Bike Transport to the city (it's extremely safe and secure)
- Find you a local guide from NYC who could guide you and provide you with a homestay
- Provide you and your guide with an official CDF racing top."
Triathlon?!? I know that ‘tri’ is three and the ‘athlon’ sounds like more running than I would ever do, but.... how could I NOT join C Different Foundation in support of those of us who are blind and visually impaired? All I had to do was pay round trip airfare to NYC and, oh yes, participate in a triathlon! I mentioned this email to my manager at Starbucks. Her response was that I absolutely had to participate and that our store would sponsor a fundraiser for my airfare!
In June, I made the commitment and registered. I probably should have committed myself for this commitment! Thus began my training and the countdown to July 18th. I was humbled by the outpouring of support from my friends and my Starbucks family to assist in my accelerated training program. It was arduous and daunting, especially battling Phoenix summer temperatures, but when July 16th arrived I boarded my flight with bike helmet and wetsuit in hand and my unconditionally loyal and fearless Guide Dog, Zamira, by my side!
There were 62 of us (31 athletes and 31 human sighted guides) representing C Different in the Nautica NYC Triathlon. We were “protesting by participation” the USAT ruling requiring blackout goggles. We were indeed visible as we proudly wore our bright orange C Different t-shirts with “No blackout goggles NYC 2010” printed on the back. Pre-race day was packed with preparation as we met our guides and practiced on tandems and tethered running. We finalized tether lengths for our 1500m swim in the Hudson River and arranged our gear in the transition area.
On Sunday, July 18, 61 very proud athletes approached the swim start as a determined and courageous team of men and women gathered together to make a statement and to make history. The crowd cheered with exuberance and my heart was filled with a pride that brought tears to my eyes. What a monumental moment this was!
The race did not progress as I had hoped and I did not finish the Triathlon. I continue to struggle with this disappointment, but each day I grow in more acceptance that I was willing to try. John Bingham once said: “The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I had the courage to start.” I will be able to say this one day. For now, I will add one of my own words to this quote: “The miracle is not that I (didn’t) finish, the miracle is that I had the courage to start.”