Abu Dhabi Race Report

World Triathlon Para Championships Abu Dhabi

November 5, 2021

Abu Dhabi, The United Arab Emirates

750m Swim, 20k Bike, 5k Run

We dropped off the pontoon and into the very salty water of Yas Marina. The air was heavy and warm, but not as stifling as I knew it would get in just a couple of hourse time. We swam out to a point right between two start buoys and waited for the “Go!” I was one of four B1 men on the start list and my confidence wasn’t super high with my less than ideal preparation leading into today. However, I was still at the start line of a race and I knew no matter how under prepared I felt, I was going to leave it all out there on the race course.

The countdown began and the horn sounded. We were off.

In Limbo

I definitely did not expect the severity of the Paralympic Games hangover. While I was proud to have been involved in a competitive race I still felt I’d let my coach and teammates down by not bringing home a medal. I initially tried getting right back to training with cycling and running, but I just felt flat. There was no umph in me. I had no desire to follow a structured workout and feared that if I forced myself to do so I’d grow to hate training. So I made the decision to step away from rigid structure.

I flew to Victoria, British Columbia to spend some much needed time with my girlfriend, Jess. We’d hardly gotten to spend time together except for a couple of weeks immediately after Pleasant Prairie and we were both eager to just be together.

Once I got settled in Victoria I connected with a handful of runners and cyclists in the community and got out as much as I could just to ride and run. I didn’t focus on pace, power or times. I just biked and ran enjoying the cold, the wet and the adventure of exploring somewhere new to me.

I submitted my name to go compete in Abu Dhabi which had just been announced as the World Championships but I intentionally kept my expectations low. I knew I had to go in with an attitude of relaxed, although still professional if I had any hope of earning good quality points to set me up well for the 2022 season.

For this race, I teamed back up with Zack and the two of us were certainly eager to make our mark.

Travel and Final Prep

I had a bit of a round about way of getting to Abu Dhabi. I was scheduled to attend the annual United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) Breakfast with Champions to celebrate the achievements of the men’s and women’s Goalball teams in Tokyo. My Paratriathlon teammates Hailey and Kendall also wanted to have one last mini get together before Hailey and I went off to race in Abu Dhabi and Kendall went to canada to begin her final preparations for the Beijing Winter Paralympics. So I flew into Colorado Springs for a few days before Hailey and I drove up to Denver to catch a flight to Germany and then on to Abu Dhabi.

I arrived about 24 hours ahead of Zack so took the time to slowly build up my bike and get it to the bike mechanic. I also took the time to just relax and settle in. Over the last year or so I’d grown to appreciate the alone time I have before races. I’m able to calm my mind and bring my over all stress of performance down by just being alone and in my own space.

The afternoon after I arrived, I met up with several of my teammates and we all hit Yas beach. My teammate Mohamed—who was getting back into triathlon after taking a couple of years off to focus on cycling—and I even got into the Persian Gulf for a bit of relaxed open water swimming. The vibe was completely different than the past few races I’d been too. Much more relaxed and people just happy to be together hanging out. Sure, we knew we’d be racing in a few days, but the race was secondary to just hanging out with good friends.

Once Zack arrived we got into our normal groove of making sure we swam, biked and ran together. We made sure to catch up over good food and coffee. And we also talked a lot of triathlon. So many cool things were happening in the triathlon world besides our race coming up in just a couple days, and if there’s one thing athletes enjoy more than actually doing their sport, it’s talking about their sport. We made sure to make time to eat and hang out with as many of our teammates as possible and just soak up the vibe of being back in the race environment.

Before too long it was time for the swim, bike and run familiarizations and final day before race prep.

Everywhere we went we made sure to have our vaccination cards, passports and a negative COVID PCR test. We were asked to show these everywhere. To get into the hotel restaurants, to get into the race venues, and if we chose to go anywhere it was just a good idea to have everything. Overall though I’d gotten fairly used to the extra documents and checks that came with racing during a pandemic.

We swam, biked and ran the course we’d be racing on and my excitement to race bubbled up. While I wasn’t swimming super fast, the water felt good and I couldn’t help but be optimistic that I’d be one of the first out of the water. The bike course was on the famous Formula1 track in Abu Dhabi. It hit while me we were spinning around the course that within the span of a year I’d complete triathlons at both Daytona International Speedway and the Yas Marina Formula1 Circuit. Pretty cool. Finally, the run was flat, smooth and fast. In other words, this course seemed to suit all of my strengths. I just hoped I’d be able to showcase those strengths to the best of my ability.

Previewing the Competition

The Abu Dhabi start list was big. There were 12 or 13 visually impaired men and at first glance everyone said it was a deep field. I immediately noticed though that there were five key guys missing which included the Gold and Bronze medalists from Tokyo, and the fourth place finisher in Tokyo. All in all, I estimated that five of the top eight visually impaired men were not in attendance. However, any time Dave Ellis and Hector Catala Laparra line up on the start line, it’s a strong field.

Dave was the clear cut favorite to win, especially after he’d DNFed in Tokyo with a bike mechanical.

Hector was the silver medalist from Tokyo and had one of the deadliest bike run combos ever. In my first ever World Series race I’d come off the bike first but Hector went blazing past me like I was standing still. Then in Tokyo he’d caught and passed me fairly early in the run and run his way through the field better than anyone else.

Then there were some wild cards like Lazar Filapovic who hadn’t raced since January of 2020, and Danacha McCarthy, who’d been on a tear in some recent World Cups. In my head, I was aiming for a top five finish simply because I wasn’t confident with where I was physically or mentally.

The Race

The Swim

We started with a deep water start, not unusual, but normally we’d hold onto the pontoon. This time we’d start from treading water. Zack was to my left and I think Donacha and his guide Sean were on my right. There was also Anatolii from the Ukraine and a new B1, Dastan from Kyrgyzstan. Our B2 and B3 counterparts would follow with their guides 3min and 21sec after we went.

The horn sounded and we were off. I put my head down and charged ahead, determined to be the first out of the water. I din’t care if I’d barely swum since Tokyo, there was no one in this B1 field that was going to out swim me. After a couple hundred meters I settled into a nice smooth rhythm and just focused on trying to swim well. Don’t try to swim fast, just try to swim smooth. Zack kept nudging me to the right as I seemed to be drifting into him. He signaled me to turn left with a double tap on my left shoulder. I knew there were four turns total. One turn about 300 meters or so into the course, then a short section before another lefthand turn then a moderately longer portion before the final turn and a long stretch into the swim exit. Shortly after I made the final turn to go into the swim exit I felt someone’s feet at the tips of my fingers. I knew I was swimming slower than I would’ve liked but I didn’t think Dave or Hector had swum that fast to catch me still a couple hundred meters out from T1. It must be one of the other B1s. In my head I screamed “Oh hell no!!!” And I immediately began putting a lot more force into my strokes. I hit the exit ramp and popped up.

Swim Time: 12min 42sec

Transition 1

Turns out I was second out of the water. Dastan, from Kyrgyzstan out swam me by 3 seconds. I’ll have to keep an eye on him in years to come. Zack and I sprinted up the exit ramp and into the transition area. We made our way to the bike and I ripped off my cap and goggles, getting them into the bin where all equipment that comes off our body is supposed to go. I quickly put my blacked out sunglasses and helmet on and we ran with the bike to the mount line. We swung our right legs over, got a foot into the shoe and took off.

Transition 1 Time: 1min 17sec

The Bike

The plan for the bike was just to ride hard and let the run be what it would be. I knew that in order to have a chance at cracking the top five I was going to have to have one of the faster bike splits. So Zack and I immediately began throwing down the power. However, something seemed a little off. Zack attempted to shift and we couldn’t seem to shift past the fourth hardest gear. There was also a sound coming from the chain that sounded like the chain was not quite fully on the chain rings, but it was. We didn’t know what was going on and knew that if we stopped to try and figure it out we’d lose more time than we would if we just powered through. We made the decision to just stay in the hardest gear we could get into and ride at a super high cadence. There were a couple of small hills on the course that we figured we’d have to grind over but we couldn’t risk shifting down to easier gears just in case we couldn’t shift back up into harder gears. So we essentially raced with one gear the whole time. We just had to make the best of it. We later discovered that the chain had come off one portion of the rear derailer which prevented us from getting into the gears we wanted access to for this flat and fast of a course.

We rode hard. Zack took excellent lines around the few technical corners and kept us upright over a wet patch on the track. Overall our speed was solid and no one seemed to be catching us. We blazed through each lap and I tried to keep my power up. There was one instance on the very last lap that Zack had to yell to encourage me to dig a little deeper. My legs were beginning to turn over slower as we ground up the final little hill. It wasn’t long after that when Dave Ellis and his guide Luke finally caught us. Luke later told us that he could see us just up the road and he was working like crazy to close the gap and it took us slowing down for them to close that final little gap to get ahead of us into transition.

We swung off the Formula1 track and into a slightly more technical section to get into transition. We slid our feet out of the shoes and prepared to dismount.

Bike Time: 26min 51sec

Transition 2

We ran barefoot through transition. I think I bounced off a barrier at some point because later after the race Zack saw a couple of long scratches on my arm that hadn’t been there prior to the race. We racked the bike, threw our helmets into the bin and yanked on our shoes. Once again I struggled cramming my feet into my shoes. I should practice pulling my shoes on more often so that doesn’t keep happening. Eventually though both of my feet were in my running shoes and Zack and I were running toward the exit and the run course.

Transition 2 Time: 1min 9sec

The Run

We were finally onto the run and a run course that finally suited my strengths. Just a couple of 90 degree turns onto a long straight away with a big 180 degree UTurn at the far end. Do this three times and it would all be over. I entered the run about 15sec behind Dave. I had no idea where anyone else was on the course but just tried to focus on running as fast as I could. I felt decently strong but only felt like I had one gear. No matter how hard I ran I couldn’t seem to run faster than what felt like a 6min mile pace. I think I was halfway through the first lap on the run when Hector finally caught and passed me. I knew he was running way faster than me so I focused on just running fast enough to hold off whoever would be coming fast behind us. Zack kept saying that we had a huge gap, that there was no one in sight. And every time I passed Mark Sortino (the head coach of the US Team for this race) he kept saying to just maintain the pace and we’d finish on the podium. I kept pushing though trying to run faster. It was warm and humid but nothing close to the oppressive heat that made the race in Tokyo so slow. Every time we passed an aid station Zack passed me a bottle of cold water to dump over myself. There was one instance when Zack went to grab a second bottle for himself but the volunteer pulled the bottle back. I was already tossing my bottle away when Zack asked for it. I felt terrible for not reacting fast enough to give Zack whatever was left in my bottle. But Zack’s one tough dude and missing one splash of cold water didn’t phase him. Even so I made sure to offer my bottle to him the last couple of aid stations just in case a volunteer didn’t give him his own.

We whipped around the final 180 degree UTurn and entered the final long straight away. I leaned forward and trusted whatever fitness I had and just ran. I had no idea what pace I was running or how far behind I was from second or how far ahead of fourth I was, I just wanted to get to the finish line. We made one final turn into the finishing shoot and I heard my name called as being in third. I put on an extra little spurt of speed to get to the line and that was it.

Run Time: 19min 23sec

Total Time: 1hr 1min 19sec

Finishing Place: 3rd

The aftermath

Good thing I didn’t run any slower. Turns out Lazar Filipovic was closing fast and finished a mere 20sec behind me. I was excited and happy to hear that Owen Cravens, my USA teammate who is only 19 years old finished in fifth. This was a great result for Owen who was competing in his first true international race. I was more eager to get cleaned up and find out how the rest of my teammates had done though than stress over how my race had gone. It felt good to get back on the podium but I had teammates out there who needed cheering on.

Zack and I jumped into some ice baths to cool down for a few minutes and it was cool to hang out and interact with our fellow VI competitors. We all acknowledged how hot it had been out there and a few of the athletes who hadn’t been in Tokyo asked how the heat in Abu Dhabi compared to the games… No comparison, Tokyo was way more brutal!

Finally, we were coherent enough to make our way out to the course to cheer on our teammates. We learned that Howie finished in seventh, his highest ever finish in the super competitive PTWC World Championship field. Also, Chris Hammer who’d had a heart breaking fourth place finish in Tokyo, had come through and sprinted his way to a Gold medal here in Abu Dhabi. Then Kelly Elmingler and Hailey Danz brought home two more World Championship Golds in the PTS4 and PTS2 sport classes respectively. Finally, Grace NOrman, Tokyo silver medalist, brought home the silver here in Abu Dhabi as well. In total, Team USA brought home five World Para Championships medals—three Gold, one silver and one bronze. Not a bad day at the office. I was flying out the next day though so I had to get back to the hotel and pack up the bike and all of the other stuff that had gotten strewn across my hotel room. So we celebrated with lunch on the rooftop deck of our hotel and watching a bit of the able bodied race on our phones. Then it off to pack and get some sleep before flying out the next morning.

Looking back at Abu Dhabi I’m conflicted. I’m happy with a third place finish considering where my head was at. I really was still processing Tokyo and wasn’t fully mentally present. I felt pretty flat throughout the entire process of racing in Abu Dhabi. Even so, I was able to race my way to a third place finish in a decently competitive field. Part of me felt relieved that guys like BBrad, Thibaut and others weren’t there to push me further down in the race, but another part of me felt I didn’t truly earn a Bronze Medal at the World Championships because it wasn’t against the best field assembled. I found myself picking apart the race asking myself what I could do to get faster, stronger and better which ultimately tells me that there’s still a hunger to race and chase perfection. I know I will never achieve that illusive perfect race, but the fact that I’m still hungry enough to chase it tells me that I’m just getting started and there’s still so much growth to be had.

I returned to Victoria immediately after Abu Dhabi to spend time with Jess and return to Colorado in December for the holidays before making my way back to the training center in January to begin the build for the 2022 season and yes, to earn a spot on the team going to Paris in 2024.

Thank you for continuing to follow my journey. Keep an eye out on my social media channels for the most up-to-date information on what’s going on in my day-to-day adventures.

As always Keep an “Eye On Your Vision!”

#eyeronvision

Kyle Coon

www.kylecoon.com

www.instagram.com/eyeronkyle

Www.facebook.com/kylecoonspeaks

The Paralympic Games Race Report

The Paralympic Games

August 27, 2021

Tokyo, Japan

750m Swim, 20k Bike, 5k Run

The Swim

I sat on the pontoon with my legs dangling in the water. Andy was immediately to my left and Brad and Greg were immediately to Andy’s left. To my right was Anatolii and his guide and immediately to his right was Satoru with his guide. I’d just removed my ice vest to keep my core temperature as low as possible in the high heat and humidity of Tokyo. The air didn’t seem heavy, but maybe that was the excitement of the day.

My heart pounded in my chest. I splashed the warm salty water up onto my face and chest. “Stay calm. It’s just like any other race. Just swim, bike and run.”

We slid off the pontoon and into the water. I kept one hand on the pontoon and tried to get my legs in a decent kicking position so I could have a little momentum at the beginning of the swim. I heard the countdown on the loud speakers begin. The heartbeat noise that proceeds all World Triathlon events seemed deeper and more ominous. Then came the “On your mark” and the blast of the signal to go.

We were off.

I charged out, I couldn’t help myself. But after a few strokes I tried to calm down and just swim smooth and strong. “Find some feet and stay on them” I thought to myself. Every once in a while I thought I touched someone’s foot but then that person would swim away.

There was a long stretch before the first turn boy to the right. I felt Andy tap my right shoulder to indicate a right hand turn. I turned harde and felt someone just ahead of me. I dug deep trying to stay with them. Was it Jose? Anatolii? Antoine? Satoru? I had no idea of knowing. All I could do was swim as hard yet as smooth as possible. No matter what though I felt slow. Why could I never feel fast in the water?

We made the second turn, then the third. All the while I kept trying to find feet to follow. There were a few times when I thought I felt the bubbles from someone’s feet but they always seemed to allude me.

Finally I felt us make the last turn and I charged as hard as I could into the swim exit. I popped up and unhooked the swim tether from around my left thigh. Andy was right there, a steady calm presence encouraging me up the ramp. I heard what I both expected, and didn’t expect. “Fourth place, 1min 45sec behind first.”

Swim Time: 12min 9sec

Transition 1

The ramp up out of the water rose up at an angle then leveled out two or three times. Then there was a sharp turn into the row of bikes. I ran hard knowing that I couldn’t make up the entire gap up in T1 but I could certainly fall further back. We made it to the bike and I got my cap, goggles and tether into the bin. Then on with the glasses and helmet—relatively smoothly—and then we were running toward the mount line.

We stopped swung our legs over the bike and pushed off.

Transition 1: 1min 9sec

The Bike

This was where we felt we were going to make up the most time on the field. However, taking some of the technical turns at speed, and bouncing around on the bike saddle coming in and out of the transition area (an area we’d have to pass through several times over the course of the 20k) was much more challenging at race speed than we’d anticipated. I always struggle getting my bare feet into my cycling shoes on the bike. Guess I should practice that more. So that felt like it delayed me more. Finally though my feet were in the shoes and we could ride. We had some work to do to catch not only Brad who was almost two minutes up the road but Jose and Satoru who were just ahead of us. So we put our heads down and rode hard.

Despite riding hard though neither Andy or I seemed to find the top power we were capable of doing. We were able to slowly reel in Satoru over the course of a couple of laps but every turn on the course seemed like a struggle. It seemed as though we’d just gotten up to speed and then we were slamming on the breaks or stopping pedaling in order to safely navigate around a tight turn. Finally though we moved ahead of satoru and also Jose. We were sitting in second but every time gap we got still had Brad and Greg way up the road. Were Brad and Greg having the race of their lives? Or was I having a horrible bike?

On lap three Andy and I were on a long straight away with a very slight uphill. Satoru was right on our wheel and we tried to put in a surge to shake him. But nothing we did could shake him. It was like our back wheel was a magnet and every move we tried to make we just kept pulling him along. In my gut I knew this race was going to be decided on the run. I’d out run most of the guys that were right around me in recent races so I clung to that hope.

We hit the very last technical section with some hard turns into the transition area. We got our feet out of our shoes and prepared to dismount.

Bike Time: 29min 19sec

Transition 2

We’d climbed our way up into second but we were still more than a minute and a half behind brad. At this point it became about racing for a medal, not racing for the top of the podium. We sprinted with the bike through transition and racked as fast as possible. I fumbled with my running shoes. I was stressed and panicking. I knew I couldn’t let the guys I’d come into transition with get out ahead of me on the run. I needed to get out of transition first. But in my haste I struggled to remain smooth. Finally though I had my shoes on and we were running and putting the tether on. I could hear the loudness of the crowd.

Transition 2 Time: 55sec

The Run

I heard my teammates Jamie and Eric screaming at the side of the course as well as the babble of Japanese fans lining the course outside of the grand stands. I also noticed the heat. It came up in waves from the ground and surrounded me. It pressed in from all sides. All I could think about was trying to remain cool. Immediately out of transition was a steep ramp up onto the main part of the run course. I drove my body up it willing myself not to slow down. I could feel someone passing on my left. Then we were taking a hard left and onto the bulk of the run course. It was easily the most technical run course I’d ever tried to race. Every 100-200 meters seemed to be another turn. Even though we’d run the course a couple of times a few days earlier nothing quite prepares you for the actual feeling of race pace and race conditions. We ran hard along a straight away to a tight 180 degree turn to the right. Then there was an immediate 90 degree turn to the left, then some gradual weaving back and forth. Every lap we passed through an area where Derick could throw us a stocking filled with ice to keep our temperatures down. Every time we passed an aid station we were grabbing water to dump over ourselves and into our mouths. I kept expecting to get passed any second by someone. I knew the B2s and B3s would be coming I just didn’t know on which lap. Brad was way out of reach and Satoru seemed to be running away from me.

The back third of the run course was the most nerve racking for me in particular. There was a stretch of downhill into transition, but just before that was a very slippery section where volunteers were spraying water on the competitors to keep us cool. The footing was sketchy and there were also a couple of dips in the pavement that were serous tripping hazards. During the run course preview I’d caught my toe in one of these and taken a hard fall. That experience made me cautious and hold back ever so slightly. This was a four lap run course, every time I hesitated I lost time. And I just didn’t have the umph to make up that time.

On lap two of the run I heard my teammate Jamie yell something about one of the competitors just in front or behind us had a penalty so to just keep going. I think it was also lap two, or maybe it was three when Hector catala Laparra and his guide passed us pushing us down to fourth. I begged my legs to turn over faster. I begged my mind and body to suffer a little more. Every time I passed Derick at the ice station he sounded panicked and frustrated that I wasn’t running faster. I could hear a pleading in Andy’s voice urging me on. I felt a crushing weight in my chest and on my shoulders. I had no snap in my legs, nothing more to give.

Finally, I sprinted hard up the last hill and out onto the fourth lap of the run. Thibaut and his guide were coming fast behind me and supposedly Hector and Satoru weren’t too far ahead. If I could just produce a world-class last lap I might be able to hold off Thibaut and who knew, maybe catch third?

I ran hard along the straight away to the right 180. As we made the turn I heard Thibaut come around me and take the lead. In my head I yelled at myself to go with him. Andy yelled encouragement, “Stay with him, stay with him.” As we passed Derick at the ice station he yelled “You gotta go now!” I tried, I begged my legs, lungs and heart to give me just a little more.

I navigated down the last steep ramp down toward the finishing shoot. Then we were in the shoot and sprinting. I wasn’t sure if I’d caught Thibaut, or how close anyone was behind me. I thought I was in fifth, but I could’ve been in sixth or worse. I barely made it over the line and crumpled to the ground.

Run Time: 19min 28sec

Total Time: 1hr 3min 0sec

Final Place: 5th

The Aftermath

There was a crazy amount of noise. I heard the boom of the announcer’s voice. I heard yelling of athletes from the earlier race. I heard people telling us to move along.

Andy helped me up and we found our way to Brad and Greg. I had enough energy to ask if they’d managed to win. “We won.” Brad said, he sounded exhausted yet elated. I was thrilled for Brad and Greg. In the entire history of triathlon and paratriathlon being in the Olympics and Paralympics, an American male had not won an individual meda.. In this year’s Olympic Games, my friend Kevin McDowell raced his way to the highest place a male had ever finished in the individual race (6th). Then Team USA put together a brilliant race to earn a silver medal in the first ever mixed team relay. It had fallen to us though, the male paratriathletes to try to bring home some individual hardware. Jamie and Eric had battled but come up a little short in the PTS4 race that morning, and the hopes had shifted to Brad, Greg, Andy and me. Brad and Greg delivered in spectacular fashion seizing hold of the race right from the beginning and never letting go.

And yet, I was disappointed in myself. Not in the effort I gave. I’d given everything I had. I was disappointed with my result and I felt like I’d let my guide, coach, and teammates who all believed in me down. They’d all believed in me so strongly and I’d come up short of all of our expectations. But the US Paratriathlon team is a family and know how to come together to support each other. Whether it was celebrating our medalists, or holding up those who were disappointed with their races, we were all in this journey together. If I myself had not been able to bring home a medal then I wanted Brad and Greg to be the ones bringing home a medal in the men’s visually impaired race.

Who Do You Race For?

A couple days before, we were all dressed up in our Opening Ceremony outfits. The excitement was thick in the air. Other teams were milling about, taking photos and getting ready to head to the Opening Ceremonies. About half of us from the Paratriathlon Team did not plan on attending Opening Ceremonies, but we still all dressed up to take photos and send those off who were attending. Just before we all split to either go to Opening, or head upstairs to change and go eat, we gathered together. Andy and Brad had thrown out the idea of doing some kind of team cheer to show our spirit. They had both been part of incredibly successful swim teams growing up and apparently this was a common thing. So Brad gathered us all together and we derived a cheer. Brad would yell “Who do you race for?” To which we’d respond “USA!” We’d repeat this sequence three times.

As we bellowed out this cheer standing in the middle of the Paralympic Village I couldn’t help but chuckle wondering what people must think of the crazy Paratriathletes.

As Brad and Greg stood atop the podium and the last notes of the Star Spangled Banner faded away, Brad again yelled at the top of his lungs “WHO DO YOU RACE FOR?!” And without hesitation, every single American present screamed back “USA!”

I realized that I could be disappointed with my result but at the end of the day the answer to Brad’s question was indeed why I was here. We were racing for all those who couldn’t be here in person. We were racing for each other. We were racing for our friends, family, our country and the hope for a better future.

The next day, I sat in the grand stands with the rest of my teammates as we screamed and cheered our heads off for the rest of our teammates who were racing on day two of Paratriathlon competition. I was filled with more pride and excitement witnessing Kendall take a thrilling win by one second in the women’s Wheelchair Race. And I was more heart broken for Chris as he finished just six seconds off the podium.

One of the main goals of the Olympic and Paralympic movement is to Unite the World through Sport. With all the stress of the pandemic, that goal was certainly made more challenging. I do know that the USA Paratriathlon Paralympic squad became much closer and united. And I even felt a stronger kinship with several athletes against whom I’d raced. Maybe that’s the nature of the games, or maybe a product of how difficult paratriathlon is in general.

In the months since racing at the Paralympics I’ve had some mental struggles with processing the immense emotional toll of 2021. But when I start to slide down a darker path in my mind I recall the simple question Brad asked from the top of the podium, and the resounding and united response…

Who do you race for? USA!

#eyeronvision

Kyle Coon

www.kylecoon.com

www.instagram.com/eyeronkyle

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Pleasant Prairie Race Report

Americas Triathlon Para Championships

June 27, 2021

Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin

750m Swim, 20k Bike, 5k Run

I floated in the chop of the lake as a breeze swept across the surface of the water. My legs were behind me gently kicking and my hands out front skulling to keep me in place. My heart pounded as I talked myself up. “This is your race. Your conditions. Rough water, high wind, hot run…Let’s crush this!” Then the horn sounded…

Wisconsin Arrival

Andy and I met at the airport in Colorado Springs early on Friday morning. We got our luggage sorted, I had rather more than I normally would have for just a weekend race since I’d be heading home to my parents’ house with my girlfriend for a much needed week plus of downtime. Once we were through security and settled at the gate Andy presented me with a brand new Mark Pro Electrical Stimulation Unit. This little device has two wires that connect to small adhesive pads that attach to your skin. When turned on the device sends a small electrical pulse through the wires, into the pads into your skin. This stimulates blood flow to promote both healing and recovery. As an athlete who has had issues with both injury and recovery in the past I was very excited to add Mark Pro into my repertoire.

I fixed the pads to my low back and my glutes and turned the device on to experience a tickling/stinging sensation. I’d play with the different intensities during the flight, but when I landed in Chicago it was the first time on a flight that my lower back hadn’t completely tightened up on me since 2019. Guess I’ll keep using this thing.

O’Hare International Airport was significantly busier than the last time I’d flown through it during the height of the COVID19 Pandemic. We threaded our way through the airport making our way down to pick up the rental cars. Then we were on the road to Pleasant Prairie.

Our hotel was just across the street from the venue and was also the host hotel for a Dare2Tri Race Camp. Many people who were competing at the continental championships were staying at the hotel and were all just arriving. The crash of noise buzzed with excitement of seeing old friends and the eager anticipation of race day just a day and a half away.

After getting checked in, Andy’s and my first priority was to find food and then get the Chinook built. We accomplished the first by grabbing delicious sandwiches from Corner Bakery and then set about the task of assembling our speed machine.

As we built up the Chinook we talked through race strategy and how we were to approach the race. If there was one thing we didn’t discuss though it was the possibility that I finished 2nd. In our minds we were the favorites to win and coming in 2nd or 3rd wasn’t even an option. I was confident, perhaps cocky.

Race Build Up

It seemed as though there were two races that everyone had circled on their calendar to keep an eye on at this weekend’s continental championships. The PTS2 women’s race where Allysa Seely, Hailey Danz, and Melissa stockwell (gold, silver and bronze medalists respectively from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio) would be battling it out for two spots to Tokyo… And the PTVI Men’s race where Aaron Scheidies, Brad Snyder and myself would also be duking it out for two spots to Tokyo.

Aaron is the most decorated male visually impaired triathlete of all time. One could argue that he is the best blind/visually impaired athlete of all time with his performances across all distances of triathlon. However, Aaron was seeming to slip in his last handful of races. Apart from wins at the previous two additions of the continental championships and the 2019 National Championships, Arron hadn’t won an international race since 2017. Not only that but he had finished off the podium for the first time in his illustrious career in back-to-back races.

Brad Snyder was a two time Paralympian in swimming where he won seven medals including 5 gold. Brad made the switch to Paratriathlon in 2018 and over the course of the next two seasons had a mixed bag of results where he’d finish as high as 3rd at some races and as low as 7th in others. It was only a matter of time though before Brad figured out how to translate his world class pool speed to the open water and we all knew once he did that he was going to be a real force to be reckoned with.

Then there was me, some good of a kid with no real elite sport background except for dabbling in high school and college club wrestling who crashed the triathlon party beginning in 2015. I was such a terrible triathlete that in 2016 when I initially looked into racing on the International circuit I was brushed aside by USA Triathlon and offered no assistance or guidance on the process. So I dedicated myself to long course racing at the 70.3 and Ironman distances and had some success until 2018 when some in the Paratriathlon community began chirping in my ear that I should be racing internationally. Amy Dixon pressured me into filling out paperwork that would allow me to race on the international circuit, then I took 4th in my first continental championships finishing a mere 14sec off the podium behind Brad Snyder. Then at the end of 2018 I was accepted to live and train at the Olympic and Paratlympic Training center in Colorado Springs with the goal of pursuing the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Then it was off to the races as I tried to turn into a short course triathlete since we raced over a 750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run. In 2019, I had a handful of successes only missing the podium once at the Tokyo Paratriathlon World Cup which had been modified to a duathlon. Then I sustained a serious back injury and rehabbed for three months before smashing my hand in a strength training mishap. I went into the 2020 season shaky and not very confident. Then COVID19 struck and the 2020 season was cancelled giving me an opportunity to get healthy and continue getting stronger. Then 2021 came around and the race for Tokyo was on!

I captured my first win of the season at an invitational race put on by USA Triathlon where I out dueled Aaron scheidies. Then I traveled to Yokohama, Japan where I had an epic back and forth race with Jose Luis Garcia Serrano of Spain to capture my first ever International win—and only the 2nd WTPS win by a totally blind male athlete ever. In seven World Triathlon races I’d been on the podium five times, and had never finished lower than 4th place in any competition I’d entered. Needless to say my team was confident I’d do well, but would I do well enough? Could I live up to the pressure?

Race Day

I stood in line behind my girlfriend, top Canadian Female blind triathlete Jessica Tuomela. This was the first time Jess and I had gotten to see each other in more than a year. Andy had strategically managed to place me right behind Jess in line for check in so we could at least have a few minutes to chat prior to starting our pre-race routines.

After getting goggles, tethers, and uniforms checked it was off to set up transition and last minute strategy chats. Before too long I found myself zipping into my wetsuit and listening to the slosh of waves out on the lake as the wind whipped the surface into whitecaps. I was a much stronger swimmer now than I’d ever been and I tried to be confident but inwardly I worried if I’d be strong enough to fight this rough water. In a discussion with my coach, Derick, in the weeks prior to today we estimated that I could surrender upto 70sec in the swim to Brad and still be in a good position. Any more than that though and it was going to be one hell of a fight.

We lined up for the swim start, Brad and his guide Greg Billington (2016 Olympian), and a new athlete from Panama named Giovanni and his guide Javier who would be doing their first World Triathlon race. Aaron and his guide Ben Collins, and Owen Cravens with his guide Ryan would follow us 3min and 21sec after we began.

The Swim

The horn sounded and I put my head down and charged ahead. I felt someone on my right and tried to surge past them. The waves were already tossing me around making me feel like I was going nowhere. I gritted my teeth, kicked my legs and tried to fight my way through the waves.

I felt Andy tap my right shoulder and I turned. The waves seemed to ease off a bit as I churned my arms through the water. I tried to repeat to myself, “Stay calm, stay smooth, stay strong.” Every time I turned my head to breathe a wave seemed to slap me in the face. I kept pushing around the second turn imagining I was reeling Brad in, not letting him get that massive swim gap that he was capable of.

We came around the third turn buoy and my world became a chaotic frothing thrash for survival. Every single time I tried to breathe I found myself swallowing water. I felt myself getting tossed sideways crashing into Andy. I struggled to remain focused enough to continue moving forward. Where was the air? I needed air to breathe. If I can’t breathe my race is over. Suck it up… You’ve dealt with worse. Holy s*it these are the worst swim conditions I’ve ever been in. Air, I need air. Damn it, that’s more water swallowed. Come Kyle don’t give up, don’t give in, everyone else is hurting worse than you…

We came to the final left hand turn and a final 30 meter sprint or so to the shore. My hands hit the sandy bottom, I staggered up and out of the water unsteady. I heard Derick’s voice off to my left as he calmly said “1min 45sec down.”

The race was on.

Swim Time: 12min 45sec

Transition 1

We sprinted Andy chirping “Come on Kyle, come on, pick it up!” I yanked at the zipper to my wetsuit and the break away zipper fell open. We reached the bike and i quickly stripped the suit down to my ankles, then Andy helped me finish yanking the rest off. I grabbed my helmet and blacked out sunglasses while handing my cap and goggles to Andy. Then we grabbed the bike and began sprinting again. We reached the mount line threw our right legs over and pushed off.

Transition 1 Time: 1min 6sec

The Bike

“F*ck!” Flew from my mouth as I tried pushing down with my right leg on top of my shoe which was already clipped into the pedal and rubber-banded in place. It felt like we were in too heavy a gear or maybe I just screwed up the launch. We wobbled and almost tipped. Andy’s calm voice reminded me to “stay steady.” We came to a brief pause and relaunched. My feet slid into my shoes and Andy gave me the command to strap in. And the chase was on.

We made a sharp right hand turn and the wind immediately began swirling around us. I couldn’t tell if it was a headwind, crosswind, or tail wind. All I focused on was putting my head down and pedalling. Smooth, controlled, full pedal strokes. I felt the Chinook come alive beneath me as she sliced through the swirling winds. Hard right turn, left turn, up a small hill, into a straight away. I lost track of where we were on the course. All I could think about was reeling in Brad and Greg little by little.

We were stretched out hammering away at the pedals. I couldn’t hear if anyone was around us. All there was was the howl of wind and Andy’s voice occasionally barking out commands. I kept reminding myself to drink from my bottle of Infinit but my stomach was still churning from the swim and swallowing so much water. Still I forced down sips of Infinit knowing I’d need it on the run. I knew I was about to hurt more than I ever had over the course of a 5k run.

Where were Brad and Greg? Surely they couldn’t be that far up ahead. Where were Aaron and Ben? Had I swum so poorly that they were about to pass us? Stop thinking about where everyone else is and just ride!

“Last 180,” Andy yelled. We pedalled hard toward transition. Where had the time gone? How much Infinit did I consume? Where’s Brad, Greg, Aaron, and Ben?

“Right shoe!” Reach down unstrap, slide foot out place on top. Tell Andy you’re good to go.

“Left shoe!” Reach down, unstrap, slide foot out, place on top, let Andy know you’re good to go.

“Pedal, pedal, pedal… Dismount coming in 3, 2, 1… We made up the gap!”

Bike Time: 28min 20sec

Transition 2

I popped my right leg over the top tube and hit the ground running. We whipped around a tight left hand 180 degree turn as we ran through transition. We reached our rack and I heard Greg and Brad talking, getting ready to take off. Wow, we had made up the gap. This race was on!

I fumbled with my helmet as I gave it to Andy to throw in the bin. I yanked on my racing flats, yanked the tether over my head and began running with Andy step for step with me on my right. It was time to get down to the business of racing.

Transition 2 Time: 54sec

The Run

We made a hard right hand turn out of T2 and I felt my left foot connect with something which appeared to be a garbage can. I payed it no mind as I began finding my run legs. I set a blistering pace as I focused on Brad and Greg’s voices about 15 meters or so up the road. “Reel’em in,” I thought. But no matter how fast my legs moved, or how hard I pumped my arms they seemed to be drawing no closer.

Andy kept reminding me, “chin down, relax… You’re reeling them in. 10 meters to go.”

The wind swirled around us, sometimes blasting me from the side, sometimes head on, even sometimes from behind. My legs felt heavy, but come on, this is triathlon they aren’t supposed to feel great. My breathing was becoming labored. I tried to calm it by taking deep breaths in and exhaling hard.

Where wer Brad and greg? Were those their voices right up ahead? “5:44 first mile. 5 meters, you’re going to make the pass. Come on Kyle! Stay on it!”

I heard Greg’s voice, calm as Andy’s as we passed on their left. I couldn’t make out the words but Greg was doing the exact same for Brad as Andy was for me. At this point in the race it was about staying controlled, calm and waiting to make your move. I ran hard trying to stretch my lead out. I heard Greg’s voice fading away behind me. The gap was widening. I was about to drop Brad. I was going to win this race…

My legs felt heavy, sweat poured off me. My breathing felt shallow. Heat… Hot… Can I get a breeze? “U-turn in 3, 2, 1.”

Headwind. WTF! Where did this headwind come from? I can’t hear. Where’s Brad? Where’s Andy? “To me Kyle… To me… Bring it up. Stay on it! Make your move, go now!”

Move? Go? Now?

Who’s that on my left? Greg? Brad? Aaron? S*it, that’s Brad. He’s passing. Make your move. Burn a match. “You’ve gotta go now Kyle!”

Go! What are you waiting for?! Go! Go! G…..

“Please… Please…” Is that Andy saying please? Why does he sound panicked, or desperate? Why do my legs hurt so bad? Why is it so hot? Why am I running? Where’s Brad? Am I leading, or 2nd? Where’s Aaron? Andy, are you still there?

Noise… Music… Shouting… Heat… Wind…

“We’re done!”

Run Time: 19min 32sec

Total Time: 1hr 2min 35sec

The Aftermath

“I’m sorry,” I remembered babbling as Andy held me upright, or tried to as I staggered over to the side of the race course.

“Stop that,” he said firmly. “You gave it everything and I couldn’t be prouder. You were strong and fought through on a day that wasn’t yours…”

My hearing was fuzzy, it was so hot. I knew I needed to drink water but I couldn’t stomach the thought of drinking anything. Then I remember clutching the rim of a garbage can and spewing into it.

Then Brad and Greg were there. “Kyle, I know we’re not supposed to but come here.” Brad and I embraced. We’d both pushed ourselves to the edge. “That was a hell of a race,” Brad said.

Brad had done it. He’d out run me in that final mile for his first career win and almost positively secured his spot to Tokyo. I was disappointed in myself. It hurt to lose again, especially coming off a couple of huge wins. But I had taken 2nd. And it had been a true race again. In Yokohama I’d out dueled Jose to pull away and win by 9 seconds. This time it was Brad out dueling me to pull away in the final mile to win by 52 seconds.

I hung onto the temporary fencing trying not to throw up again. A medical person kept telling me to drink water. Andy and my family were there congratulating me telling me how proud they were. I couldn’t respond, I was just too exhausted.

Then Jess came sprinting down the finishing shoot. I heard Andy say she was coming and I mustered up enough energy to turn, ready to greet my girlfriend as she came across the line. Unfortunately Jess caught her foot on the carpet covering the finish line and went down hard skinning both of her knees badly. Not knowing she’d crossed the line though she scrambled to her feet and tried to keep running as her guide pulled at her yelling at her to stop, that they were done. Andy supported me over to Jess and I grabbed her hand refusing to let go. We made our way to an open grassy area and I collapsed on the ground. I knew I needed to rest and laying down was the best way I knew how to do that. Andy knelt by my side and kept talking to me keeping my thoughts of disappointment and doubt from crowding out the positives. I’d given it everything I had. I’d dueled with Brad Snyder all the way to the end. I’d managed to hold off a hard charging Aaron Scheidies who finished only 17 seconds behind me. My coach Derick was there lending his calming presence. My parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. Sitting just a few feet away, my girlfriend, Jessica Tuomela, sat getting her skinned knees bandaged. I still had teammates out on the course who were crushing their races…

Thoughts and emotions swirled in my head as I lay there on the grass with my feet propped up on a folding chair. Aaron and ben knelt down beside me to congratulate me and tell me how amazing it was that I’d gotten so strong. Why was everyone treating me like this? I’d just lost? Hadn’t I? It took a few hours and days for me to remember that winning does matter in sport, but it is still truly about pushing ourselves to the edge and even over the edge. Sport is about finding the best we have on that day and never quitting.

It took me a couple of hours to finally cool down and recover enough to sit up, eat and drink. By that time I learned that the rest of my teammates were finishing. I learned of the epic battle between Hailey Danz, Allysa Seely, and Melissa Stockwell in the PTS2 race which Hailey won. I learned about Eric Mcelvany out running Jamie brown to grab his first career win and secure a second spot for the USA in the PTS4 class. I learned about Kendall’s and Howie’s dominating wins. One by one, my teammates found their way to me to check how I was doing and we each congratulated each other in turn. There was a buzz in the air of victory and defeat, uncertainty and triumph. Racing was truly back and we were only eight weeks out from the Paralympic Games. And in one week’s time we would be finding out who would be representing the United States at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games in the sport of Paratriathlon. Until then though I planned to head home to clear my mind in the clean mountain air of the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado and spend some well deserved time with Jess as she’d received approval from Triathlon Canada to stay in the US for a couple weeks as she waited for her second vaccine dose to take full effect thereby eliminating her need to quarantine upon her return to Canada. After a year and a half apart we were thrilled to spend two weeks together and switch our brains off from triathlon as we hiked through the Elk Mountains and ate good food and shared good company with friends and family as we waited for the call.

I sat in the bucket seat behind the driver. Skye was on the floor to my right and I held Jess’s hand as we drove up toward Snowmass to go for a hike with my parents. My phone rang displaying the name Amanda Duke (USA Paratriathlon Program Director). Heart in my throat I double tapped the screen. “Hey Kyle, it’s Amanda…”

Americas Triathlon PTVI Men’s Results

1. Brad Snyder/Greg Billington, 1:01:43

2. Kyle Coon/Andy Potts, 1:02:35

3. Aaron Scheidies/Ben Collins, 1:02:52

Book Tracker 14

Book Tracker 14

A Wrestling Life

By Dan gable

Dan Gable is a legend in the sport of wrestling. The 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist, he only lost 1 match in his college career, and never lost in high school. He’s a rarity in that he was such an outstanding wrestling and went on to be an even better coach. He also didn’t stick around as a competitive wrestler much past his Olympic run but rather went straight into coaching.

This book tells his story, but not in the typical manner of from beginning to end. Rather he tells a series of stories where each chapter could really stand alone. It’s a good read although it’s puzzling to me why I admire Gable so much when he very vaguely talks about learning from defeat. Or maybe it isn’t that surprising. He seems to be one of those people who hated losing more than he liked winning and that drove him. He always wanted to be his best and strove to be the best at any level of wrestling.

His success on and off the mat is remarkable given he had to overcome the murder of his older sister when he was a teenager. I will say though that while this is a very good read it doesn’t go in depth on a ton of stuff. I wasn’t drawn in and I felt like I could walk away from the book and it wouldn’t bother me if I didn’t finish it. Nevertheless I know I’m going to get his other book, A Wrestling Life 2. Why? Because it’s Dan Gable and I always want to peruse what the greatest American wrestler of all time has to say. You can learn so much from stories of success as well as failure.

Book Tracker 13

Book Tracker 13

The Escape

By Matthew Slater

I read this book as part of a book swap with the author’s mother. She got my book on Amazon Kindle and gave it a great review and in turn I got her son’s book and read and reviewed it.

It is a novel about a criminal who’s empire is stolen away from him by his partner and supposed friend. A drug deal goes bad and the main character (Brian) is shot and sent to prison where he stays for 10 years before his long time actual best friend breaks him out in a hail of gun fire and explosives. Brian’s main goal is to get back at his former associate (Tony) and kill him. But first he has to get back on his feet.

He eventually finds his way back to a life of crime, does some deals, gets recruited into a mob boss’s secret inside group and nearly gets killed a few times. It’s a real page turner and action is abundant. The book ends with Brian nearly getting killed but an associate is able to save him and then it cuts to Tony mad with rage murdering one of his associates who had arranged to kill Brian. Needless to say I’m on the edge of my seat wondering when Slater will pen the sequel.

Book Tracker 12

Book Tracker 12

The Bomber Mafia
By Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell is a phenomenal author and podcaster. I love how his most recent audiobooks have been more podcast-like than someone just reading the book. This book is unique in that it was an audiobook before it became a print book. The foundation of this book came mostly from Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History. He did three or four episodes on General Curtis Lemay. His deep dive into Lemay’s story led him to learn all about the Bomber Mafia in the 1930s and 1940s. This was a group of men who believed in the value of strategic bombing rather than conventional warfare.
The book goes into detail about who the major members of the Bomber Mafia were and outlines their successes and failures. Ultimately it took until the 1990s and beyond for some of the ideas of the Bomber Mafia to truly become reality.
General Curtis Lemay was not part of the Bomber Mafia but was the General who probably brought WWII to an end sooner rather than later as he engineered and conducted a fire bombing campaign of Japan in order to avoid a ground assault which inevitably would’ve resulted in many more deaths and the prolongment of WWII. Lemay was a doer not a thinker. The man he replaced in command of the Air Attacks in the Pacific Theater was a thinker and philosopher and member of the Bomber Mafia—General Hayward Hansel.
Hansel was a true believer in precision bombing and continuously tried precision bombing attacks but the technology just wasn’t there at the time. His ideas and dedication though led to the development of the technology that allows us now to have precision strikes thereby causing less damage to lives and property.
This is a fascinating read if you like military history, and it’s an interesting read if you like psychology as it discusses the differences between Lemay and Hansel and their psychological makeups. One quote from the book really stood out to me. “Without persistence principles are meaningless, because one day your dream may come true. And if you can not keep that dream alive in the interim then who are you?” To understand the context of this statement, I’d read the book 🙂

Book Tracker 11

Book Tracker 11

The Hero Code
By William McGraven

Any time retired Admiral William McGraven comes out with a book you can bet I’m going to get it and read it. His first book, “Make Your Bed” was based off 10 lessons he learned while going through Navy Seal training and expanded upon his viral keynote address at the University of Texas. Then there was his autobiography “Sea Stories” which detailed several of the major missions and the lessons he learned from them during his 37 year military career. And now “The Hero Code: Lessons learned from lives well lived.”

This book details the qualities we see in every day hers and explains how we ourselves can implement those in our lives. Admiral McGraven reads the book himself and the way he inflects, emphasizes, and his overall general tone of voice is captivating. It draws you in and is the voice of a leader. It makes you want to implement his suggestions, especially with his trademark humility. As he goes through the characteristics of hers he tells stories of the heroes he’s met and how they embodiment these traits of courage, humility, humor, sacrifice, and so many more. In all Admiral McGraven identifies 10 traits/characteristics of heroes and lists them out in the “Hero Code” at the end of the book. I personally wrote these down myself and know I’ll be referring to them often as I strive to be a better person, teammate, and leader myself.
If you haven’t read any of Admiral McGraven’s books, don’t wait any longer. I definitely recommend “Make Your Bed” and “The Hero Code” and then when you have time definitely read “Sea Stories.” And if you can read the audiobooks, they’re even better.

World Triathlon Para Series Yokohama Race Report

World Triathlon Para Series Yokohama
May 15, 2021
750m Swim, 20km Bike, 4.98km run

“I will prepare, and some day my chance will come.” — Abraham Lincoln

Every competitive athlete longs for that day when their competition challenges them to dig deep, to push beyond the perceived limits in their mind, to find what they are truly capable of. Coming to Yokohama I knew this race would be one in which I’d need to fight for every second and place. I knew that this race would be the most competitive field I’d ever faced and I knew everyone would be ready to rock and roll. I knew my body was primed and ready. Sure, the shoulder impingement I’ve dealt with off and on throughout my triathlon career had been flaring up, but with the right stretches and strengthening exercises it would be ready to go full gas for a 750m swim. The only question I had now was whether I was ready to win against a field of athletes that was continually getting stronger. And this was the first race back in the Paralympic Qualification window after more than a year pause due to the COVID19 Pandemic, so everyone would be extra motivated since there would be no guarantee we’d get to race again prior to the Paralympics. Was I ready?

Enter The Bubble
Due to strict COVID19 protocols imposed by the Japanese government, this race would be drastically different than any I’d ever participate in before. The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) in conjunction with World Triathlon had devised a bubble environment that would keep all participating in the race events as safe as possible. The Japanese government required us to have numerous documents on hand as we entered the country including negative COVID test results, travel itineraries, a written pledge, a travel visa, international health insurance, and many others besides. We were required to arrive into Japan on May 11 and required to leave May 16. In addition to printed documents we were required to install multiple applications on our smart phones including an Overseas Entrance Locator, COVID19 Contact Tracing, Google Maps, Whatsapp, and Skype. All of this wasn’t difficult to obtain, but it was a lot of extra steps that were out of the norm for us and I found myself constantly wondering and stressing anytime I reached into the binder of paperwork I had wondering if I had all the correct forms. Fortunately, my guide and friend Zack Goodman, and the rest of our Paratriathlon team were all traveling with me and we were all in the same boat. Not only that, but every other athlete from every other country was going through the same stresses.
We arrived in Japan and were immediately required to take a COVID19 test. We were then held in a quarantine area while we waited for results. Once we were all deemed COVID negative we proceeded to the normal customs routine of paperwork and collecting of baggage. Then it was onto a bus that took us directly to our hotel. Once on the bus we were given credentials and our hotel room keys. We were required to wear a wristband and have our event identification on us at all times we set foot outside of our hotel rooms. It was constantly reiterated to us that once we were in the “bubble” we were not permitted to leave and not complying with the protocols could result in criminal charges.
We arrived at our hotel, dropped our bags in our rooms and immediately proceeded down to the parking garage that we’d christen our “Basement Bike Bubble” to build up our bikes. Then it was off to bed to try and sleep and get on a decent schedule that would allow us to perform as good as we could come race day just four days away. Fortunately for me I was able to get some decent sleep and was awake and well rested by the next morning.

Food Is Fuel
Our meals were boxed and hung on our door handles in plastic bags. Every single meal held a different surprise, it was as though either Japan was guessing at what we typically ate for breakfast, or they were trying to Americanize our food. Quite often I’d open my breakfast to find spaghetti with tomatoe sauce. Every single meal had a generous helping of sticky rice and several pieces of white bread and olive oil. One morning I got some sausage-like meat that looked and tasted similar to a hotdog. It reminded me of the sausages I ate when in Tanzania nearly 15 years earlier. One of my teammates on that climbing trip had christened those sausages “tube steak” so that’s what I thought in my head as I ate my hotdog/sausages for breakfast.
I often couldn’t distinguish between breakfast, lunch and dinner as the food mostly tasted the same. Unfortunately the majority of the time our food was cold. Every time I took a bite I heard the voice of one of our trip leaders from when I participated in the No Barriers Leading The Way Expedition to Peru in 2006 saying “Food is fuel, so eat up.” We had a couple of upset stomachs over the course of those first couple days amongst the team so we all became much more picky with what we chose to eat out of our boxes, especially as race day drew ever closer. I wound up relying heavily on the stash of protein bars, tortillas, peanut butter, and instant oatmeal I brought, supplemented with fruits and snacks that had been set out in the hallway.
While we were required to stay in our rooms almost the entire time, we were allowed to step out into the hallway for short chats, or to grab snacks from the snack table set up by the elevator.

Honing The Edge
One of the most frustrating and purplexing parts of our “bubble” was our training situation. It was constantly stressed that safety and social distancing were paramount and of the utmost importance. During a select one hour time period we were allowed to descend into the basement parking garage where partitions had been set up where we could place our bike trainers and ride. We were told that we were not allowed to have our bike trainers in our rooms. To get down to the garage we’d often be tightly packed into the elevator, and it purplexed us that the mandate was still to avoid all but unnecessary conversation. Well, we followed the rules as best we could.
On Wednesday and Thursday we were bused from the hotel to a gym that had been shut down for those days so that all athletes participating in both the able-bodied and Para races could use treadmills and the pool. We were limited to running for 30-45min and the same for swimming. As I ran or swam though I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. Here we were cramming hundreds of athletes into a gym for them to run and swim and we weren’t allowed to run or train outside in the open air. Oh well, we followed the rules outlined to us to the best of our ability and made it to Friday with few hick ups and only mild annoyances to our regular taper routines.

Pre-Race
The day before the race would typically be our swim, bike and run course familiarization. We were permitted to have a swim familiarization, but no bike or run course familiarization. These familiarizations are usually extremely important come race day because you can analyze where good places to accelerate, make an attack, where to move cautiously, and when to safely pass other competitors. When you are racing at the speeds we race at, the smallest details matter and there’s only so much you can gain from looking at a course map or old race video. Nevertheless it was great to get outside and swim in open water.
I love swimming in open water. I feel free and I have little fear of smashing my hands to pieces on lane lines or pool walls. I also love the feeling of riding the currents and adjusting for swells. After swimming two laps of the swim course with Zack I felt very confident that I was going to swim fast. And with Zack on the front of the bike I knew we’d ride well even though we didn’t get to preview the bike course. My coach, Derick, had been able to get hold of a GPS file of the run course and was able to analyze it using Google Maps and Streetview to precisely measure distances to turns. He then walked Zack and I through those turns and what our strategy would be once we got to the run.
“This is a swim run race,” he kept telling us. “Take no risks on the bike. Trust your run fitness.” I’d done all the work. The hay was in the barn. Now it was my time to rise up and show the international stage what we were capable of. I went to sleep Friday night nervous, excited, and confident. I just wanted to race.

Analyzing The Competition
Even though we all had done little to no racing the last year I still analyzed my competitors previous race results. Having raced against several I knew what many of them were capable of doing. I also knew that if I’d gotten stronger then undoubtedly that meant they all had gotten stronger as well. From the get go I identified Jose Luis Garcia Serrano of Spain as the man to beat. Jose, or Jota, is a B1 and for the last several years has been the fastest B1 swimmer and runner in the field. And based on his most recent race results I felt pretty sure that he was getting stronger on the bike. The other two internationals I pegged would challenge for the podium were French athletes Antoine (a B1 who’d beaten me in Magog in 2019) and Thibaut (a B2 who I had also raced against in Magog and who I had to sprint to stay ahead of to hold onto 2nd place). Both Antoine and Thibaut could run like the wind and France traditionally has a very strong triathlon presence so I knew they would be bringing their A game. Then of course there was my fellow American teammate, Aaron Scheidies. In 23 career international races Aaron had never finished off the podium, had only finished 2nd five times, and 3rd once. I also had a feeling that Aaron would be extra motivated after he finished 2nd to me at the Sarasota Paratriathlon Invitational in March.
Needless to say I felt there were five or six of us that would be battling it out for only three podium spots. I anticipated a close race and knew that I’d be giving it my all to ensure I was right in the thick of it.

Race Day

The Swim
I took deep calming breaths. I sat on the edge of the pontoon with my feet in the water. There was the tiniest bit of chop as the wind blew in toward us. I hear the announcer rattle off the names of the PTS5 men and then the horn which sent them on their way.
I immediately slid my entire body into the water and dunked my head it’s customary seven times to get my face used to the chill of the water. I heard the music and the announcer was announcing the names of the next class of Paratriathletes that would go after us. Then all of a sudden the horn sounded and Zack was yelling at me, “Go, Go, Go!”
I threw myself forward and began stroking hard. I’d been placed at the end of the line of B1 athletes. There was nobody to my right and I had smooth water ahead with the most direct line to the first buoy.
I quickly found my rhythm and managed to synchronize my arms, legs and when I took a breath. I was right on the edge of that threshold of “I can’t go any harder,” and “I can hold this all day.” I felt the feet of someone just ahead of me. Was it Jose, or somebody else? I had no idea, all I knew was that I had to stay with whoever was right in front of me and I had to pass them on the back stretch of the swim.
We swam strong until the first righthand turn and I continued pushing the pace and slapping the feet of the person I was chasing. We then reached the final hard turn and I knew this was my time. I knew I was swimming well and if I wanted to challenge for the win I needed to make my first move now. So I upped the tempo, lengthened my stroke and felt as though I was gliding through the chop. I wasn’t feeling the feet of anyone now though which made me think my opponent had also cranked it up and swum away from me. In reality, Zack had maneuvered me into the perfect inside position allowing us to surge past the Spaniards and take over the lead.
I took my last few strokes and felt the ramp of the pontoon under my hands. I popped up, got my feet under me and started running. Zack was yelling at me, “Go, go, go, first out of the water!”
Swim Time: 11min 36sec

Transition 1
Energy surged through my legs with the knowledge that I was leading the race. I reached back and ripped the zipper of my wetsuit down. Then I just focused on running as fast as I could up two decently steep ramps and into the main part of transition. I felt the blue carpet under my bare feet as I ran. I thought I could hear the Spaniards right behind us but there was so much noise from the music and crowd that I couldn’t be sure.
We reached the bik and I quickly yanked my arms out of the wetsuit. I got it down to my ankles and was able to get my right foot out but was having issues with my left. Not wanting to waste time I immediately dropped to my butt which was Zack’s and my signal that I needed him to give my wetsuit a yank. He did and quickly tossed it into the bin along with my cap and goggles. I grabbed my helmet and blacked out sunglasses, put them on, stood up and we took off running with the bike. For this race we’d decided that we’d start with our cycling shoes already clipped into the pedals and held in place with rubberbands. While I’d tested this out a few years earlier with my buddy Danny Craven, and Zack and I’d practiced a little bit the day before we flew out of Colorado Springs, there was still that instant of prayer that this would indeed work. One thing I did realize was that it was a lot easier to run barefoot with the bike in T1 than clod hopping in cycling shoes. We reached the mount line.
Transition 1 Time: 1min 18sec

The Bike
We swung our right legs over the top tube and I was able to slide my right foot into my shoe. We pushed off but not hard enough. The bike seemed to wobble and was in danger of tipping over. My left shoe had wound up upside down, but I quickly managed to reach down and flip it right side up. I wiggled my foot into the shoe and quickly strapped it in. Then I reached down and strapped my right foot in. Zack was doing the same. This did take us longer than either of us would’ve liked but once our feet were secure we could focus on riding our race. The Spaniards were just a few pedal strokes ahead of us. We set our sights on them and determined we would not let them get away.
The Yokohama bike course was easily one of the most technical bike courses we’d ever ridden. We immediately took a hard 90 degree right out of transition then a tight 180 out onto a straight away. After that I just hung on and listened for Zack’s instructions to coast, lean, or turn. It seemed as though we were constantly coasting and turning. However there were a couple of straight aways where we could build up some speed and carry it through each turn.
We took the first lap extremely cautiously not having gotten to preview the course the day before and therefore not knowing how safely we could take each turn with speed. Just 10m ahead of us the Spaniards were doing the same.
The bike was four laps of 5km each so our plan was to up the effort on each successive lap. There were one or two hairy sections where Zack planned to be extra cautious, but after the first lap Zack felt confident we took take most of the turns pretty aggressively. After all, technical bike courses are really fun because it tests the speed, power, and communication of both pilot and stoker. It’s a more true test of how well you ride together than a straight up easy course. And with each successive lap Zack and I were getting more and more confident.
We kept the Spaniards just ahead of us until part way through lap two. Then on one of the straight aways we made our pass. Unfortunately, we were constantly having to slow down and speed up to avoid running other Paratriathletes off the course as we kept overtaking the single bikes. The Spaniards upped their effort and seemed determined to stay with us. I could hear the guide yelling just as Zack was. There was no doubt, we had a Race on our hands.
At every 180 degree turn around, of which there were several, Zack could get a good look at who was pursuing us and our time gaps to each. There was a solid line of tandems all racing flat out. Zack wasn’t able to see any of the B2s and B3s who had started 3:21 behind us though. Every time we made a turn or surged, The Spaniards matched us pedal stroke for pedal stroke. As Derick predicted, it looked like this was going to come down to who could run.
We completed the 3rd lap and were going flat out on the 4th lap. During one section I felt the bike slide under me as the wheels hit a slick patch of gravel, but we stayed upright and powered through. Then we approached the dismount line.
Zack gave the command to unstrap our left feet, then our right. We pedaled and then it was time.
Bike Time: 28min 12sec

Transition 2
“3, 2, 1, dismount!” We leaped off the bike hitting the ground running. It was one of the smoothest flying dismounts we’d had in a long time. We sprinted with the bike, with the Spaniards breathing down our necks. We reached our bike rack, quickly racked it and I yanked on my shoes as Zack tossed our helmets into the bin. I pulled the run tether on and then we began to run. I heard the Spaniards off to my left as we both came crashing into the start of the run. Step for step, and stride for stride. It was on!
Transition 2 Time: 54sec

The Run
The run was pancake flat and the pavement was firm and dry underfoot. “Too hot, too hot,” Zack told me in the first few hundred meters. I took several deep calming breaths, relaxed my shoulders and focused on letting myself flow through the run. We’d moved about two or three steps in front of the Spaniards and they settled in right behind us running just off our shoulder and running stride for stride with us. I could vaguely hear them breathing hard and could definitely hear the guide encouraging and urging Jose on. I forced myself to breathe evenly taking deep breaths in and filling my belly with air, then forcing it out. I knew that no matter what I had to remain calm and I had to stay in front of Jose. I had the psychological advantage, every time I heard him trying to make a move I countered it by picking up the pace just a bit. We kept that two or three step gap.
We approached the first 180 degree turn around on the run and nearly over shot it as the volunteers who were supposed to be pointing out where the turnaround was were standing well back. I had to quickly slam on the breaks and pivot hard to the right and get back up to speed, but fortunately the Spaniards weren’t able to capitalize on our near error. I quickly settled back into my pace, running within myself, right on the edge of “I can’t go any faster,” and “I can hold this all day.” I kept my hands high, my shoulders relaxed, my chin down and my focus straight ahead. I could feel the ground under my feet, smooth, flat, and fast. I seemed to pop off the ground stronger with each step. With each 90 and 180 degree turn, Zack and I got stronger and improved our communication and tactics. Each time we made a turn we seemed to stretch the gap out by only a step or two, but then the Spaniards would close the gap ever so slightly.
“Just keep this pace,” Zack kept telling me. “Hold this pace and you’ll break him. He’s dying. He can’t stay with you. You look so smooth Kyle. Stay on it!”
We completed the first of three laps on the run and the Spaniards were still right there two or three steps behind us. I upped the tempo just a touch more. “Descend each lap,” I told myself. Derick and Andy had been working with me on my run pacing and tactics and I felt confident I could finally negative split this run. So I just continued to turn up the pace little by little.
Zack kept reminding me to maintain my forward lean especially on the long straight aways.
The 2nd lap passed in a blur, and now I knew it was time to really throw down the hammer. My pace seemed to lift ever so slightly. My breathing was labored although I fought to control it. “Don’t show your opponent you’re struggling. Maintain that poker face.”
With about 800m to go in the run Zack and I both knew that this was the time I had to make my move. We hadn’t discussed it beforehand, we both just instinctually knew that I had to launch and break the invisible rubberband that Jose and his guide Pedro had seemingly latched on to us. “Go now!” Zack yelled. I could hear Pedro yelling behind me and I knew I had to go faster. I pushed my body to a level of pain I’d not experenced before. I was running flat out. I gained one step, then two steps, then three. The invisible rubberband that had connected us right from the beginning of the run was now stretched impossibly tight. “Drop him!” I screamed inside my head. All the while Zack was yelling “Go, Go, Go! You got this, he’s dropping!”
I was entering a world of hurt I’d not experienced. This was all brand new territory. Did I have the strength to hold on. Would I have enough left for one final kick?
We made the turn onto the blue carpet of the finishing shoot. Zack took one more glance over his left shoulder and screamed at me “GO NOW! SPRINT! 100m! 50m! ALL THE WAY…!” Then Zack let out a yell of triumph and pure joy and I knew it was over. We’d finally done it. We’d won.
Run Time: 17min 45sec
Total Time: 59min 45sec

The Aftermath
Zack and I barehugged. Without Zack holding me up I would’ve collapsed to the ground immediately. As it was I kept telling him, “I need to lay down.” Finally I lowered myself to the ground and lay on my back struggling to get air into lungs that felt flat. Finally, after what seemed an eternity I dragged myself to my feet. Jose came over to me and we hugged. I don’t think either of us cared that we were breaking COVID protocol. You can’t race within spitting distance of each other the entire race, push each other to collapse, and have that kind of race without expressing your gratitude and admiration for each other at the end. The best way we all know how to do that is through a hug. I think Jose and I both knew that this will be the first of many races where we are battling it out.
We didn’t have to wait very long for the 3rd member of the podium to cross the line, Thibaut from France. We all made our way to the recovery zone and grabbed bottles of fluid along the way. I sat on a bench and just couldn’t believe that I’d won. I couldn’t believe not just that I’d won, but how I’d won. I’d finally stayed with the leader, made my move and stayed away, winning in a sprint finish. Sure it’s gratifying to win with lots of daylight between you and 2nd place, but this win at the WTPS level was so much more gratifying than when I’d run clear of Aaron by thre and a half minutes back in March. I was also aware that this win was significant. Until I’d crossed the line first, Jose had been the only B1 to win a WTPS (Yokohama 2019). Additionally, we hadn’t had an American VI stand atop the podium at a WTPS since 2017.
This race was just a glimpse of what’s to come in the Visually Impaired Men’s field. Our class is getting stronger, faster and more competitive. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out.
Congratulations to Jose, Thibaut, and their guides for an outstanding race. It’s an absolute honor and pleasure to share the podium with such strong athletes.
Thank you to my entire USA Paratriathlon team for believing in me and always pushing me to get better. Thank you especially to my coach Derick Williamson for never wavering in his conviction that I would one day very soon stand atop a podium and for continuing to ensure that I keep an eye on continual improvement. This isn’t the end, it’s only a beginning.
Thank you to Aaron Scheidies for paving the way in the US and wearing that target of being the best Visually Impaired Triathlete for your entire career. You still motivate me to keep pushing myself and working to get better.
Finally, thank you to my good friend and guide Zack Goodman. Bro, we finally did it! Thank you for being a stellar guide and always making sure I give my very best at every race.

Last but not least, thank you to you my #eyeronvision family for your unwavering and continual support. You are all amazing and I always feel the strength and positive vibes you send. Until the next race 🙂

As always, Keep an “Eye On Your Vision!”

World Triathlon Para Series Yokohama Results
1. Kyle Coon, USA, 0:59:45
2. Jose Luis Garcia Serrano, ESP, 0:59:54
3. Thibaut Rigaudeau, FRA, 1:00:34

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Kyle Coon
http://www.kylecoon.com
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Book Tracker 10

Halfway to a Goal

Book Tracking 10

Taking Point
By Brent Gleeson

There’s something satisfying about reaching the halfway point of a goal you set for yourself. I’ll admit I’ve been bad about writing up reports and posting them the last few weeks. You’ll notice though that I through together a few quick reports and observations of books I finished and posted them this weekend. Well, I finished yet another book just last night.

This book was referenced in one of the other books I just read, Embracing the Suck. Brent Gleeson actually wrote Taking Point first. Since I enjoyed Embracing the Suck I figured why not read his first book.

Taking Point is all about helping leaders in companies/organizations lead their employees through change. Gleeson lays out 10 principles that he learned in his time with the Navy Seals and through his own business ventures and guides leaders on some best practices and suggestions on how to navigate change.

A couple things stand out to me. The first is the title of the book. Taking Point, which basically means “Lead!” So this book is focused on people who want to lead. This is reinforced throughout the book as Brent references how leaders are not managers. Leaders have to have a vision but more importantly communicate that vision.

The biggest theme throughout the book that I came away with was communication is key. After that is discipline and then resilience. All of these fall into my own theories of leadership which makes me think I’m on the right path. Granted this is an over simplification, but I do think that clear communication is struggling to surface in today’s environment. I myself struggle communicating clearly with my team members and especially those I’m close with. So this reminds me of an area I need to improve upon. Additionally, I can always become more disciplined and through discipline I can continue to learn resilience. In short, improvise, adapt, overcome… Damn, guess dad’s been right my whole life.

Book Tracking 9

Book Tracking 9

The Perfect Mile
By Neal Bascomb

This was a fascinating read for me being an athlete. Everyone knows that Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile barrier in 1954 and that precipitated many others running under 4 minutes for the mile. Most famously John Landy broke the 4 minute barrier just six or seven weeks after Bannister. This book follows the journeys of Bannister, Landy and a third runner who I’d never heard of (Wes Santee) as they all strove to be the first to go under 4 minutes. It details their different training approaches, how they all competed at the 1952 Olympics and all had very disappointing races which spurred them on to do better in their athletic endeavors.
Bascomb does a masterful job of weaving a tale of each runner’s pursuit of the 4 minute mile culminating with Bannister breaking the barrier first, then Landy doing it just six weeks later. He also describes the struggles that Wes Santee had on his route to trying to go under 4 minutes and how he kept bumping up against outside barriers such as the Amateur Athletic Union, and racing for his University.
What struck me most about this book is how different and similar each man’s approach was. Bannister took an extremely scientific approach to his training and used his own medical studies to test theories on himself to figure out the best methods of training. He eventually did seek a coach’s input but not until five or six months before he broke the 4 minute mile.
Landy started out being coached but moved away from being coached after he learned a ton from observing and having conversations with some of the most famous Finnish runners at the 1952 Olympics. Landy moved toward a volume based approach mixed with lots of interval sets. His approach was run for personal accomplishment.
Santee’s running was entirely guided by his high school and then college coach. Santee was definitely the most outspoken, and dare I say arrogant of the three men. On the other hand he ran on behalf of his college team which didn’t permit him to solely focus on breaking the 4 minute mile until the last couple of months of college when he was embroiled in scandals and legal battles with the AAU. I got the impression that Santee was so full of himself that he failed to communicate clearly with certain competitors who actually tried to help him. In one of his last races when he tried to break the 4 minute mile, a competitor came around him and tried to pull him to the 100m to go mark but Santee thought he was starting his kick and so Santee didn’t want to risk losing so he launched a sprint costing him the 4 minute mile by less than 1sec. If he had just stayed on the shoulder of the competitor and kicked 100m later than he did, he very possibly could’ve broken the 4 minute mile. But I get where Santee’s head was at. It’s really hard to see someone move into the lead and not immediately counter the attack because you’re afraid you won’t have the kick you need.

A story related in this book that I’d never heard before was about how Bannister and Landy had an epic show down at the Empire Games (which I assume are now the Commonwealth Games). Bannister had broken the 4 minute barrier, then Landy, and six weeks after Landy ran sub 4, the two met head-to-head and ran an incredible race against each other. The race showed their contrasting styles of running and displayed the importance of even pacing, tactics, and having extreme fitness. Both men planned their race, raced their plan, and ran what equated to a near perfect mile. Both ran sub 4 at that meet, but you’ll have to google or read the book to find out who won the head-to-head 🙂

Most of all I came away with a deep respect for all three men profiled in this book. It’s really incredible what they all did and tried to do using various methods. They were all certainly naturally gifted but put in tons of hard work in order to achieve what they did. I can take a little of each man/athlete and implement what they did into my own understanding of what it means to be a competitor and to reach my highest potential.