Two Months In

Two Months In

Well folks, it’s March. That means I’ve been living and training at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) for just about two months now. The first few weeks were definitely an adjustment in terms of navigating my way around complex, getting to know people and finding a rhythm and pattern with my training. After two or three weeks I felt I was settling in nicely and then the fatigue set in.

For the first couple of weeks I was definitely running on pure adrenaline and excitement. I mean, I was finally here, living a childhood dream of being a “professional athlete.” Not only that I’m living at the Olympic Training Center where so many of our finest Olympic and Paralympic athletes have lived and trained. Star-struck, starry-eyed… Yep, that was me for a while.

One day in my second or third week I made my way to the Strength and Conditioning facility to do my run workout on one of the treadmills. There is one specific treadmill that I always use in the S&C facility. It has a sticker that my coach, Derick, slapped on it so that I know where the start button is. As I made my way past several treadmills I heard several people running extremely fast on the treadmills. When I reached my treadmill I heard a female voice say “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m just finishing up and you can have this treadmill.” “No problem,” I replied as I looped Skye’s leash around an unused treadmill so he’d be out of the way. The woman who was using my treadmill hopped off, quickly wiped it down and stepped away. Almost immediately I heard someone say “Hey Colleen, I’m a huge fan…”

“Wow, did I just kick Colleen Quigley, 2016 Olympic Steeple Chaser off a treadmill?” (Note: I’m not sure if it was Colleen Quigley, but I do know that the Bowerman Track Club was in town for a bit of training, so who knows.) Little moments like that would just throw me for a loop and make me think “what am I doing here?”

I think it was the next week that Derick decided it was time to tighten the screws a bit. All of a sudden I’d open my Training Peaks account and my run paces would be much faster. In the pool in the mornings I wasn’t exclusively working on technique. I had to still focus on technique but at a much higher intensity. Derick would set my tempo trainer and I’d have to beat the beep on the timer setting. I felt slow and sluggish in the water and felt like everyone was just flying through the workout so easily. My shoulders ached, my lats complained and my mouth constantly tasted like chlorine.

In the morning I’d wake up and my shoulders and back would feel extremely stiff. One week, this must have been two or three weeks ago now, Derick assigned me a hard swim set. I thrashed my way through the first two-thirds of the set at what felt like a snail’s pace even though I was swimming as hard as I could. Derick stopped me and told me to call it a day because I was going backwards.

The very next day the swim set was even harder with the main set being 5 by 400 at close to race pace effort. I felt strong on the first set so went out harder than I should have. Then the second set I settled into a nice pace. The third was hard to maintain and the fourth I completely fell apart. I dangled on the wall with my head leaning against my arms, chest heaving and blood pounding in my head. I expected and desperately wanted to hear Derick say “Let’s call it quits Kyle. You’re going backwards again.” But alas, I didn’t hear those blessed words. Instead I heard “10 seconds… 5, 3, 2, 1, go!” And so I had to push off the wall and do my best to crank out another set. And if the fourth set had felt terrible, this one felt like my muscles were being torn from the bones.

For the next week or so I floated through each day in a bit of a daze just wanting to survive each swim. My bike was the only thing I felt strong and confident in. I’d swing my leg over my trainer and after five minutes of easy spinning I’d feel the power surge into my legs and I could crank out any workout Derick through at me. My run was hit and miss. Some days I felt like I could run at a sub 6 minute per mile pace. Other days I wondered if I’d be able to hold a 9 minute pace. My weight lifting sessions were pushing my physical and mental capabilities as well. Some days I felt like I could lift the building, and other days I felt I could barely pick up a coin.

But then some time early last week there was a shift. My shoulders and back no longer screamed in protest as I stroked through the water. If anything it felt good to push myself and it felt like a challenge to raise the bar in terms of my technique and effort. Wattage ranges that only a few weeks earlier had been tough, were now seeming almost easy on the bike. But the real break through came in my run when Derick assigned me 8 by 1 km repeats at a 6:15/mi to 5:49/mi pace. I hesitated, unsure if I’d be able to hold those paces. Just the week before I’d really struggled holding a 6:45/mi pace. But I gritted my teeth and opened up what I call “The Hurt Locker.” And let me tell you, this workout Hurt! When I reached the last interval if I could see I’d say I would’ve been seeing triple. My legs were so shaky that I had to walk the cool down. But after that nothing seemed that bad.

Now we sit just about one week out from our first race of the season and I’m excited and nervous. Excited because I feel that I’m swimming, biking and running, stronger and faster than I ever have in my life. But I’m nervous because what if it’s a fluke? What if I can’t put it together on race day? In the end I know I need to trust my training and use next week’s race as a springboard into the rest of the season.

Interested in what a normal week looks like for me? Read on below.


Wake up at 6:00 AM. Feed and take out Skye. Drink a protein shake, eat a cliff bar or run to the cafeteria and grab some fruit and a bagel with almond butter.

7:30-9:00 Am: Swim, normally about 3500 meters.

Post swim, eat a larger breakfast.

11:15ish: 90 minute easy spin on the bike. Shower up and head to cafeteria to eat lunch.

3:30 PM: Strength and Conditioning, usually lasts 60-90 minutes and we hit just about every muscle group in the body.

Quick dinner around 5:15 after feeding and taking Skye out. Then around 6:00 PM head to Pure Bouldering (a bouldering specific rock climbing gym) to work on some bouldering projects, or head to CityRock to volunteer to belay kids with the Adaptive Climbing Team.

Get back to the room about 8:30 or 9:00. Shower and crash.


Same morning routine.

7:30 AM swim, again about 3300-4000 meters.

Breakfast and then normally around 11:00 or 11:30 is a high intensity run interval workout.

Lunch and then the rest of the day off unless I schedule a massage or elect to do some foam rolling and stretching.

Sometimes Tuesday night I’ll meet friends for tacos… Yum!

In bed by 9:00 PM at latest if I can manage it.


7:30 AM swim usually about 2500-3500 meters.

High intensity (normally threshold/race power work) bike session right before lunch.

3:30 PM, another strength and conditioning session. This one is normally a bit shorter, about 45-60 minutes again hitting just about every muscle group.

Try to be in bed soon after dinner. Definitely don’t be in bed later than 9:00 PM.


8:00 AM swim. This swim is usually shorter, no more than 2500 or 2600 meters and we focus on technique and drills. Although we’ll occasionally throw in some very short but very high intensity sets just to keep us honest.

Easy run right before lunch.

Rest of the day dedicated to stretching, foam rolling and/or a massage if I didn’t do one on Tuesday. Also, I tend to be low on workout clothes about this time of week so I’ll do some laundry.


7:30 AM swim. 3000-4000 meters with intensity.

Tempo/endurance bike intervals just before lunch.

And once again, strength and conditioning at 3:30. Normally this one’s about 75 minutes but we push the weight hard. For some reason my trainer likes to make me do a lot of pull-ups on Friday… Not fun after a week of hard swimming.

Dinner around 5:30. Shower and in bed by 9:00 PM.


Typically a tempo run at around 7:45/mi pace, but that seems to be getting faster each week. I usually try to get this done around 10:00 AM or so after breakfast but before lunch.

Afternoon I reserve for relaxing or hanging out with friends I’ve made outside of the OTC complex.


Typically a higher intensity bike session ranging from 1.5-2 hours. I definitely try to get this done early, just after breakfast. Afternoon again is reserved for relaxing, reading, hanging with friends and doing laundry.

Of course this schedule isn’t exact. There are a lot of moving parts, but this is the rough outline. And naturally I do take my dog out four or five times a day and spend some time on Facebook helping to manage the Bubba Burger Adventures Facebook page, and doing my best to come up with blog topics to update you all 🙂

So stay tuned as more updates and stories will be coming!

You’re Goofy! My early running days Part II

You’re Goofy: My early running days part II

“So I think you should sign up for the Disney Marathon,” Mike said to me on one of our late afternoon training runs.

“Dude, that’s like 26 miles. I don’t know if I can do that just yet.”

“Well, you don’t have much of a choice because we’re signing up for it as soon as we get back to my house… But there’s one catch. The marathon’s already sold out so I’m actually signing you up for the Goofy Challenge.”

“Ok, whatever you say… But one question… What’s the Goofy Challenge?”

Disney Marathon weekend is a semi-big deal in Orlando. At least it is for the endurance running community. It’s a big weekend for Disney as well. They get tens of thousands of runners descending on the theme parks from all over the world plus all of those runners families. Disney also knows how to put on a production and they do their best to make the endurance race experience worth it. Disney Marathon Weekend is a week-long festival of sorts when you include the days leading up to the actual races.

The week is kicked off by the Disney Marathon Race Expo where runners can pick up their race packets, race shirts, shop for apparel, technology, nutrition etc. On Thursday the racing is kicked off with a 5 km run/walk for those interested in doing something a little more tame. Then on Friday the stakes are raised a bit with a 10 km run/walk. Then the big fish begin to be fried as Saturday rolls around because that’s the day of the half marathon (actually the biggest race numbers-wise of the weekend). It’s estimated that more than 30000 runners participate in the Disney Half Marathon alone every year. Then on Sunday the main event takes place—The Disney Marathon, which around 25000 runners partake in each year.

The marathon is such a special distance and is alluring for many. 26.2 miles seems so short when you drive it in a car. Even when you pedal it on a bike it doesn’t seem that bad. Then when you take to foot and begin trying to run you suddenly realize how fucking far it really is and it seems a bit overwhelming. For a few select special crazies, Disney offers a couple of race packages which include the Goofy and Dopey Challenges. The Goofy Challenge consists of running the Disney Half Marathon on Saturday, followed by running the Disney Marathon on Sunday. The Dopey Challenge adds in the 5k on Thursday and 10k on Friday making for 48.6 miles of running over the course of four days. Goofy is 39.3 miles of running over two days. And for someone who’d never “run” more than 10 miles at a time, that seemed pretty daunting. But at the same time I was confident and cocky enough to think I could pull it off. After all how much harder could it be than humping a 60ish pound backpack for 50ish miles in the backwoods of Wyoming on little training and severely blistered feet (I’d done this in 2010 with my mountaineering team, Team Sight Unseen). It turns out, a little harder than I anticipated.

Needless to say, people around me thought I was absolutely crazy but supportive nonetheless. The only one that didn’t think I was completely out of my mind was the crazy SOB who’d signed me up for this endeavor, Mike.

Three weeks after Mike and I completed our first road race together he completed the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Over the previous couple of months Mike had filled me in on what “Kona” was and it’s significance in the triathlon world. Tracking Mike via the online tracker on my phone was fascinating. I found myself on the edge of my seat anxiously waiting for Mike to reach the next checkpoint. And once Mike crossed the finish line nearly 17 hours after he started I thought “If he can do 2.4 mi of swimming, 112 mi of biking and 26.2 mi of running, then maybe I’m crazy enough to somehow pull this Goofy Challenge off.”

Goofy Prep

Mike returned home from Kona and took a week or so off. But since he was planning to guide me for the entire Goofy Challenge coming up in just over two months we needed to get training. Our plan was to do as many back-to-back running days as possible. I wasn’t advanced enough to do a traditional marathon training plan so we made it up as we went along. I ran with Mike three or four times a week. Sometimes we only ran three miles, other times we ran up to 10.

We drove out to Clermont—about a 45 min drive away—to a looped dirt road with no traffic called Clay Road. Clay Road was a 10 mile loop with no shade and no opportunity to refill on water. Mike and I ran/walked Clay Road several times in our lead up to Disney. Over the next couple of years Clay Road would become one of my favorite spots to run due to the lack of traffic and the fact that I could just focus on running and not worrying about tripping over curbs.

Mike and I ran a little 5k in mid November just to get another road race under our belts and then we stepped it up the first weekend in December to run one of Orlando’s other big foot races of the year—The OUC Half Marathon.

This was my first half marathon and it was only a month before we were slated to take on the Goofy Challenge. Mike and I ran/walked the first nine or so miles before we both blew up. Mike was struggling a little bit motivationally post Kona and I just didn’t know what the fuck I was doing when it came to running. We mustered up enough mojo to run the last half mile of the OUC Half Marathon to cross the line in just under two and a half hours. Slow, but we finished. I couldn’t help but wonder though “How the hell am I going to do this plus a marathon just one month from now?”

The Disney Half Marathon

If there’s one drawback (apart from the financial expense of the race itself) to Disney Marathon weekend, it is the ridiculously early start times of the races. Disney is a money-making machine and they want their parks to be open as long as possible with as few disruptions as possible. So in order to accommodate nearly 30000 runners running 13.1 miles through several of the parks they start the races around 5:30 AM. This means getting to the startling before 5:00. For some runners who stay at the Disney resorts and surrounding hotels, they actually tend to arrive before 4:00 AM. Since Mike lived downtown and we were only a 45ish minute drive from the parks, we left a little later. Of course we got stuck in a little traffic, but still made it to the parking lot with time to spare.

We made our way from the parking lot toward the startline. Since my best running times were fairly slow I was assigned a wave near the very back with the slower runners. However, Mike had also signed up as a participant (not as my guide) and his times pushed us up closer to the front of the race. So Mike had me drape my shirt over my bib and snuck me into Wave F, rather than Wave P where I was originally slated.

The temperature was cold but the energy was high. I’d never experienced the nervous excitement of a major race like this before and it pumped me up. I drank in the energy and was excited to get going.

The first wave to go was the wheelchair athletes. Then Wave A, B, C and on. Eventually we started moving forward and crossed the timing mat to get started. People were bumping and jostling us and Mike was calling out “Blind runner” with a little more force and authority than he had at the Miracle Miles back in September.

We made our way to the right hand side of the road where slower runners typically run/walk allowing the speedy people to pass on the left. Of course, our biggest nemesis were people wearing headphones. But we somehow navigated around them with a combination of yelling and running them over… Hey, whatever works right?

The thing I noticed about the Disney Half Marathon was the party-like atmosphere. There were high school marching bands, cheerleading squads, thousands of spectators, people playing music from big speakers. Then when we actually entered into the Magic Kingdom (the first park we passed through) it was like I was a kid again going to Disney for the first time. I recalled being a kid and running all over the Magic Kingdom because I was so excited. Now I couldn’t help but laugh because I was intentionally running down Main Street USA for a half marathon—and the next day I’d hopefully be running through here again for the marathon.

I heard all kinds of Disney music from movies I used to watch as a kid. Mike let me know when we were passing characters. Overall it was an incredible experience.

We ran/walked our way all the way through several other Disney Parks until we reached EPCOT—the final park. We “ran around the world” and finished the 13.1 mile course strong besting my previous personal best half marathon time by more than five minutes. Now, we had to go home, eat and rest up because we had a marathon to run the next day.

The Disney Marathon

For the second day in a row I found myself in Wave F at 5:something in the morning with 25000+ of my closest friends at the start of another Disney foot race. This time though it was that iconic 26.2 miles. Twice the distance of anything I’d run/walked before. To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. I felt very underprepared. My legs were very sore from the previous day and I didn’t know how I was going to get through this. Mike was also hurting and was fighting a bit of a cold. But we knew that we had to somehow just keep moving forward.

We crossed the startling and broke into a shuffling jog. We’d decided to run for 6.5 minutes and walk for 1.5 minutes. And for the first 15-20k we held to that schedule. In my mind I wanted to break 5 hours as that was the Blind/Visually Impaired Boston Qualifying time. My arrogance knew no bounds.

We made our way through the Magic Kingdom, then Animal Kingdom as well as the Disney Speedway and some other attractions. Once we crossed the 13.1 mile mark we were in new territory. I had no idea how I’d respond or when I’d hit that “wall”. It turned out the “wall” was just around the corner.

Mike and I somehow managed to shuffle/jog our way to about 15 miles, refilling our handheld water bottles every few aid stations. Around mile 15 or 16 my legs just didn’t want to work any more. We slowed to a walk and wound up walking one of the most boring parts of the entire course with no music, crowds or anything to motivate us. We could vaguely hear the people cheering as runners passed through the Wide World of Sports Complex, but that was still a very long three or miles away. We walked just telling ourselves to keep moving.

I was on autopilot. I knew that if I stopped moving I shouldn’t be able to start again. I kept telling myself, “It’s only 10 miles. Just one Dr. Phillips or one Clay Road loop.” Then that distance got whittled down to nine, eight, seven and six miles.

We walked through Disney’s Hollywood Studios at mile 22 or so and I couldn’t fathom traveling another four plus miles by foot. We tried jogging, then shuffling, then jogging again. Mile 23 passed and we grabbed some coke, bananas and chocolate. Then mile 24 and 25. We were approaching EPCOT, the final stretch. We did our best to run but at this point I just didn’t care any more. I just wanted to be done with this race. I hated running and never wanted to do anything like this again.

The last quarter mile we were able to break out into something resembling a run because we at least had to look good for the cameras. We crossed the finish line and celebrated with our friends and supporters who’d come to cheer us on and some of whom run the race as well. Then it was time to collect our Marathon Finisher medals and our Goofy Challenge Finisher Medals as well as get our Goofy Challenge Finisher photos taken.

Naturally by the time Mike and I’d gotten our photos, medals and everything taken care of I’d talked myself down off the ledge thinking, “that was awful, but I probably made it way worse in my head than it really was.” And by the time I was laying in an epson salt bath at home I was telling myself “I could run a marathon faster than that.” Maybe if I just did the marathon it wouldn’t be so bad… In other words, I was hooked on distance running and challenging myself physically and mentally. I wanted to know how far I could physically and mentally push myself. Previously I’d pushed myself pretty far, or so I thought. But running/walking 39.3 miles in two days opened me up to a whole new realm of suffering and for some crazy reason I really liked it. And thank goodness I found this love of pain and suffering when I did because my personal life was going to hell in a hand basket way faster than the 5 hours 49 minutes and 6 seconds it took me to complete my first marathon. In fact, my personal life was spiraling our of control nearly as fast as a 2 hour marathon and I would need the pain and suffering of running, then cycling and swimming to cope with myself for the next year and a half.

Very Early Running Days

“Just move your legs. Because if you don’t think you were born to run, you’re not only denying history; you’re denying who you are.” (Dr. Dennis Bramble)


Growing up, I’d always considered running a punishment or just a way to train for other activities. I never thought I’d consider myself a runner and a distance runner at that—nevertheless wind up enjoying the sport.


As kids, my dad would make my sisters and I run laps around the house if we misbehaved. In PE at school, our punishment for acting up was always running laps. At wrestling practice running was part of conditioning but it was also used as punishment. Didn’t give your best effort in a match, start running and don’t stop until coach said so. Sometimes that could last all practice. There was one form of running that I did semi-enjoy though and that was treadmill running.


Growing up totally blind I used a long white cane to feel the ground in front of me so I wouldn’t trip over obstacles. Running with my cane usually resulted in it getting bent and breaking. So when I did run I usually held onto a friend’s elbow or wrist and we’d run together. I didn’t like relying on someone else though so I hated running even more. Running on the treadmill was different. In eighth grade I began training to hike the Ankascocha Trail into Machu Picchu. Part of my training was doing cardio on either the treadmill or elliptical. I wasn’t a graceful treadmill runner. I landed on my heels and made quite a bit of racket. I’m sure others around me in the gym didn’t appreciate the noise I was making. Over time though I began to enjoy the 45 minutes to an hour that I spent on the treadmill. I could just plug my headphones in and listen to music. I worked on developing a lighter foot strike so that my running would be quieter and I’d draw less attention to myself.


When I got to college I continued my treadmill running as my primary method of training for wrestling. I got to a point where I ran a 5 minute and 37 second mile on the treadmill during my sophomore year of college. After that though I got more into indoor cycling and stopped running for several years. Treadmill running and my 5 minute 37 second treadmill mile might have been the end of my running career if I hadn’t struggled finding employment after college and taken to reading and found out about the “born to run” phenomenon.


Born to Run


In May 2013, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. I immediately began job hunting, sending my resume everywhere I could think of. I applied to jobs dealing with communication, social media, public relations, writing, etc. Sometimes I got interviews, sometimes I didn’t. There were a couple of times that I came out of an interview feeling confident that I’d at least get a second interview but days would go by and I’d hear nothing. I had one memorable interview where I walked in with my guide dog and the receptionist rudely asked, “What are you doing here?” When I explained that I had an interview the receptionist excused herself and went to talk to the person I was supposed to meet. Then she came back out and said the hiring manager had suddenly been called away to an emergency meeting and that I’d be called to reschedule. This wound up happening several times and as the months passed I became more and more depressed and desperate to find any job. The low point came when I applied to be a bagboy at a local grocery store and was turned down.


At this point I’d put on 25 plus pounds from when I’d graduated. My fiancee at the time was becoming increasingly frustrated with me. She’d come home and find me asleep on the couch with my laptop sitting on my lap, on the floor or on the arm of the couch. She insisted that I should just go back to school and become a college professor. I did not want to. I was determined to figure something out, I just wasn’t sure what that something would be.


It had been nearly a year since I graduated, and I had no job, my bank account was nearly empty and I was losing hope. When I’d gone through tough times before I’d forgotten my troubles by reading books. So I started reading some books. And then I came across “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.


“Born to Run” is a book about a tribe of natives in the Copper Canyons of Mexico who are considered some of the best distance runners on the planet. McDougall traveled with several top American ultrarunners to the Copper Canyons where they competed in a 50 mile race. The book also discussed the sport of ultrarunning and for some reason it captivated me. I began thinking about the trails and mountains I used to hike as a kid growing up. When hiking in Peru one of our climbing mentors kept telling me to “gear down, we ain’t racing!” I did slow down, but reluctantly. Reading about trail running made me yearn to get back out and move fast over hundreds of miles of trails. I knew though, that before I could run mountainous trails I had to be able to run…period. In order to do that, I needed to find a running partner.




In 2008 I was still relatively new to using the internet with my JAWS for Windows screenreading software. I was in charge of finding sponsorship deals for the climbing team I’d founded with my buddies Brad Jaffke and Justin Grant. My rudimentary googling skills brought me to the C-Different Organization. They were primarily focused on getting people into endurance sports like running and triathlon. The founders were Aaron Scheidies and Matt Miller who I’ve become closer with in the years since. I wasn’t interested in getting into running or triathlon at that point, but I was interested in their fundraising platform that would allow Team Sight Unseen to receive tax-deductible donations without becoming a nonprofit ourselves yet. In order to utilize that fundraising platform though I had to create a profile. The website also matched people who were blind or visually impaired with sighted guides for activities such as swimming, cycling and running. I created the profile and it remained pretty dormant for several years. Until that day I finished Born to Run and decided I needed to get my ass out the door and start running.


I logged on to the C-Different website, updated my profile and typed in my zipcode to see who was in the Orlando area. Two profiles popped up and I emailed both individuals and waited to hear back. One of those guys responded and it’s a good thing he did too because I’m pretty sure the C-Different website went defunct not long after that.


The guy that emailed me was named Mike Melton. He was an ER doctor and triathlete but was willing to do some running with me when he wasn’t doing his own training or during his easy days. After a quick chat on the phone where we deduced that this was going to be a total shit show with no rule or playbook we arranged a time to meet and give running a try.


I’d bought some parachute cord and tied it into a rope. I figured we could each hold onto one end and that’d get the job done as some kind of tether.


I met Mike at a running path that circled a lake in downtown Orlando which was pretty close to his house. We began jogging, I held one end of our makeshift rope tether and Mike held the other. Mike had never been around a blind person before and was nervous. I was nervous too but tried not to show it.


About half a mile into our run we came to our first obstacle. We had to navigate between two poles that were placed on the path to prevent cars from driving on it. Mike notified me of said poles and I stepped sort of behind him. Unfortunately I didn’t step far enough behind him and crashed into one of the poles. I had a massive charlie horse in one leg and thought I still had both testicles but wouldn’t be able to confirm that until I got home nearly two hours later. Mike felt terrible having run me into the pole but I did my best to shake it off and we continued running. In all we ran about five miles that day and despite our one mishap with the pole we decided to run together again that upcoming weekend.


That weekend came and Mike drove to where I was living with my fiancee. We ran from the house out about five miles and then back for a 10 mile day in just under two hours. Not bad for my second run. And this time we didn’t crash into any poles, and only stumbled over a few curbs.


I mentioned earlier that Mike was a triathlete. He was actually in midst of training for the Hawaii Ironman. He kept calling it “Kona” and I pretended to know what he was talking about. Over the next several months Mike and I got together to run a few times a week. I eventually landed a job downtown and Mike and I would run after I got off work. Then we’d occasionally meet up on the weekends at either one of our houses to do an 8-10 miler. Mike took me to get fitted for running shoes. We constantly reevaluated our tether system experimenting with all kinds of materials and systems to find the best tether that worked for us so that Mike could effectively guide and we could both have something resembling running technique. And all the while our friendship continued to grow and our individual personal/love lives began falling apart.


Eventually, Mike decided I was ready for my first race. He picked out the Miracle Miles 15k—a 9.3 mile road run that wound through downtown Orlando and raised money for the NICU at Whinny Palmer Hospital. I was nervous and excited. I’d never been able to run more than a couple of miles at a time, it was chilly and drizzling, and I’d never run in crowds before. So understandably both Mike and I were apprehensive. All in all though we had an incredible race. I ran the entire 15k and Mike navigated me in and around the crowds fairly flawlessly. Early on in the race Mike kept politely calling out “blind runner” to try and get people to move but nobody was paying attention until a lady running right behind us helped us out by screaming at the top of her lungs “MOVE!” That parted the crowd and gave Mike and me a bit of a clearer path. We were lucky to be running a similar pace with this woman who was acting as a pacer for a group of her friends. She used her loud boisterous nature to clear a path for us a few more times. We finished the race having averaged 9 minutes and 38 seconds per mile. Not fast by any means, but it was my strongest fastest run up to that point.


Later that week Mike signed me up for something that truly seemed inconceivable, but something that sounded too tempting not to try… My first marathon. Except there was a little bit of a “goofy” catch/twist.


… To be continuedJ

The Open Road: My intro to Cycling

The Open Road

“A bike is freedom; freedom from rules and freedom from adults.” (Lance Armstrong)


When I was four years old, I got a bike. It was blue with black knobby tires, black seat black pedals and black handlebar grips. I rode that bike in endless circles around our col-de-sac. I’d pretend I was racing or that I was riding a motorcycle. I did my best to pop wheelies or jump the bike over curbs, but I wasn’t very good at it. I just liked going fast.


I first learned to ride without training wheels on my younger sister’s bike. One of her training wheels had fallen off and her bike was leaning against the garage wall. My bike was hanging up from hooks on the ceiling. Everyone else was inside watching TV and I felt like riding. So I grabbed Kelsey’s bike and rode it with one training wheel. I think mom came outside to look for me and then talked me into taking the other training wheel off. Now I was riding on two wheels. I felt alive. I was able to push my bike as fast as it would go.


When I lost my sight at age six, I didn’t think I’d ever ride a bike again. Meeting Erik Weihenmayer though opened up my eyes to the possibilities before me as a blind person. Rock climbing was of course at the top of that list, but probably second was tandem cycling.


My dad spent several months looking for the right tandem. There were several bike shops in Jacksonville but not many carried tandems built with a seven-year-old stoker riding in the back. Finally, though we found one and I felt my old excitement of going fast. The tandem was black with knobby tires. I called it a mountain bike but it didn’t really have any shocks and I  later discovered that it wasn’t so hot off the road. But for the time being all I had to do was sit on the seat, hold the handlebars and push the pedals as hard and fast as I could. And that was all I cared about right then.


We began doing family bike rides around the neighborhood. Eventually, my friend John Norville was deemed trustworthy enough to get on the front of the tandem and pilot me around. John and I rode a bunch together. It was a way for us both to get out of the house and hang out together. John and I liked the idea of pushing ourselves as hard as we possibly could. We started venturing off of the paved roads and over grass, then a few dirt trails.


On a boy scout trip to Standing Indian, North Carolina, dad loaded the tandem in our camping trailer and we tested the tandem’s mountain capabilities on a few steep mountain trails. It was a terrifying but exhilarating experience. All I had was a T-shirt, gym shorts and sneakers. With no shocks we hit roots and rocks, I felt my butt come off the seat more than once as we seemed to fly through the air bombing downhill at speeds more than 30 miles an hour. All I could do was hang on for dear life. After that mountain biking experience we never took the tandem offroading but I wasn’t done cycling. I was actually just beginning.


The Orange Crush


When I was 11 I appeared as a surprise guest to Erik Weihenmayer on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Shortly after that dad was contacted by World TEAM Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters) and they invited dad and me to participate in a bike ride that would go from Ground 0 in New York City to the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. a ride covering 280 miles in three days. I don’t know if I’d ever ridden further than five miles up until then but I was willing to try, even though 280 miles sounded inconceivably long and miserable. I thought about how my butt ached after a couple hours of fun riding with John around the neighborhood. Dad of course said we’d do the ride and started looking for a new tandem, because “Blacky” just wasn’t going to cut it.


Dad found the perfect tandem for our endeavor, a sleek orange Cannondale road bike. This thing just looked faster than Blacky and I couldn’t wait to ride it. I was in the midst of my second season of competitive rock climbing then and was growing used to the idea of training for performance, but climbing was still more fun than anything. My coaches were good at making up games and pitting us against one another in competitions to make us better. Apart from some basic core exercises I didn’t really do much “training” for climbing other than just climbing harder and harder routes. Cycling would begin to introduce me to actual training for sport and the foundation of cycling would build a tremendous base for when I stepped into long distance hiking, wrestling and eventually triathlon.


Dad started us out easy just going for a six mile ride. I felt weird in skin tight cycling shorts and a jersey. I also didn’t understand why on earth I had to wear these shoes with plastic soles and massive clips on the balls of my feet. I couldn’t walk at all in them. Couldn’t I just use regular pedals and have that strap that tightened over my shoe?


I was very self conscious about how I looked in my cycling kit. I felt like I was wearing nothing but underwear, but I eventually got used to the feeling. Dad and I would ride every couple evenings when he got home from work. There was no way in heck I was getting up early to ride, that just sounded crazy. Our rides became steadily longer from six miles, to 10, to 20. Then dad felt I was ready for a 30 miler.


He found a bike path called the “Baldwin Trail” which was an old railroad that had been converted. Dad picked me up from school one afternoon and we drove to the trail, making it there around 3:30. I changed into my cycling kit in the car and then clipped into the back pedals on the “Orange Crush” as our brilliant orange colored tandem was called. My butt always hurt after rides, I didn’t like the racing saddle I had to sit on. How was I going to sit on this thing for three days of cycling?


We took off from the parking lot and hit the trail. It was mostly shaded by trees and almost perfectly straight for 15 miles. We settled into our rhythm and passed several groups of cyclists who were pedalling along leisurely. We picked up the pace at the five mile mark, then the 10 mile mark.


We flipped around at 15 miles and began heading back. I wasn’t sure I could make it, but dad was yelling his customary “MUSH SLUG!” his nickname for me while on the bike. And so I mushed as hard as I could. We made it back to the parking lot after just over an hour and a half of cycling. I was hot, my butt hurt, my legs hurt, but I also had this weird feeling of accomplishment. I liked pushing the pace and learning to suffer through the aches and pains to reach the end as fast as I could. Plus there was something cool about riding nearly 20 miles per hour on a bike.


We ultimately didn’t do the ride from New York to D.C. But we did not stop cycling instead setting our eyes on another goal—The PGA Tour Cycle to the Shore MS 150. This charity bike ride raises money for MS research. I had a great uncle, with whom I shared a birthday, who had MS and it was much closer to home than the World TEAM Sports event had been.


Dad and I spent an entire year just riding the tandem. We picked several routes through Jacksonville that we’d ride once or twice a week. Most of our rides ranged from 20-40 miles. Sometimes we got together with other cyclists, sometimes we rode on our own. We always enjoyed it more in a pack though because of the drafting effect, but somehow dad and I always seemed to wind up on the front of the paceline. Dad was also fueling my competitive spirit with little phrases like “Are you really going to let Mr. Dawson beat us in this sprint again?” or “What you say we try to catch and drop Mr. Stenson?”


The most fun we had was probably when we’d go to the Baldwin Trail for time trial work. A time trial is just you against the clock. You go all out as fast and hard as you can. And because the Baldwin Trail only had a few street crossings where we had to look out for traffic, it was a great place to practice going all out for 30 miles.


One memorable day we were riding with our usual neighborhood group at the trail. Dad and I of course wound up on the front of the pack and just started hammering at the pedals. At first the guys hung, but slowly a gap appeared. When we flipped around at the 15 mile mark the group was only a few seconds back of us. That was when dad told me to “MUSH!” and we took off like we were shot out of a cannon. We seemed to just fly. I felt light on the pedals and perfectly comfortable in my cycling position. We made it back to the parking lot a mere one hour and 18 minutes after we’d started the ride. It took the rest of the group more than 10 minutes to catch up with us.


The MS 150


We arose early in the morning the first day of the MS 150. The start of the ride was at the St. Augustine airport, about a 45 minute drive from our house. We arrived around six AM for the seven AM start and took a picture with the rest of our team—comprised of people from dad’s office—with us all decked out in our Bubba Burger cycling kits.


Our best cyclist, Andy Stenson, was bouncing around and eager to get on his bike and to the front of the pack. The rest of us grouped together and started the ride off easy. I was a little antsy too and wanted to absolutely crush it. However, I’d never done a ride longer than about 40 miles, and I had 86 to travel today. Dad did his best to keep me reeled in. After all, I couldn’t exactly go faster than he’d allow since he was piloting the tandem.


We cycled with the rest of the Bubba Burger team for a while until we all started settling into our own pace groups. Dad and I latched on to a group of men and women who appeared to be very strong cyclists. We all took turns swapping leads for about 20 miles. We averaged close to 25 miles an hour. Then we hit the halfway point and dad and I pulled off to grab something to eat. I was tired and wasn’t sure how I’d make it the rest of the way to Daytona. But after a sandwich and gatorade I knew I had to try. And so we set out again.


A couple of hours later we rolled across the finish line five and a half hours after we’d begun. My butt hurt, my legs hurt, my neck hurt, everything hurt and I just wanted to curl up in a ball and go to sleep. Mom and the girls met us at the finish line and helped us get up to the hotel room where we showered and fell into bed for a long nap.


That night we made it down to the hotel restaurant for some dinner. As the waitress went to hand me a menu, dad—in his befuddled and tired state—said “He doesn’t need that…he can’t read.” (Oh, what she must have thought of us.)


We got up the next morning but were too sore and exhausted to attempt cycling back to St. Augustine. So we instead drove back as did all of our team except Mr. Stenson. The MS 150 had been a phenomenal and humbling experience.


We returned the following year with an even larger Bubba Burner cycling crew, including mom. We rode more as a team until dad and I got ants in our pants and took off after lunch. We finished this year’s ride slower but stronger. The next day instead of fatigue keeping us from riding it was bad weather. We elected not to fight strong winds and potential storms. Those two years of cycling with my dad and the Bubba Burger cycling team were great. I’d fallen in love with the sport of cycling and begun building a solid foundation for my later adventures.

My Swimming Evolution

Growing Gills


My earliest memories of the pool are pretty vague. I was maybe about three years old and had on a pair of bright orange blow up floaties to prevent me drowning. I  splashed and played around in the little two foot deep kids pool at the public pool in our neighborhood. I couldn’t help but one day hope I could swim in the big pool just a few steps away where all the big kids were swimming and laughing. Shoot, I could’ve thrown the toy shark I was playing with and landed it in the big pool, but alas I was confined to the kiddy pool until I could swim. So I resolved to learn.


We occasionally traveled down to Naples, Fla to visit my mom’s side of the family. One day we were at their community pool and I think I talked my Uncle Bill into letting me swim with just one “Waterwing.” He relented and I started figuring out how to swim. From then on I practiced every time I was in a pool. Sometimes I wore one floaty on one arm and then I put the floaty on the other arm. Eventually, I got confident enough to tread water and finally start stroking without “waterwings.” My technique was horrible, I splashed more water out of the pool than probably anyone else, but at least I was swimming—or more accurately, not drowning.


When I went blind just before I turned seven, something changed. The pool and water weren’t as fun and inviting as they used to be. On one hand, I desperately wanted to play in the pool as all my friends were doing. But on the other hand, I wanted nothing to do with the pool. I was definitely scared. When my head went underwater all of my senses seemed to shut off. The only thing guiding me was my hands. I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t smell or breathe. Nothing existed beyond the reach of my outstretched fingertips. It was my childhood friend, John Norville, who helped me get back in the pool and somewhat learn to enjoy swimming again.


John’s grandmother—whom we all called “Gaga”—lived just around the corner from where my family. She had a pool in her backyard and John and I’d often go over to Gaga’s and play. Sometimes other friends would join us, but most of the time it was just John and I. We practiced tricks off the diving board and then pretended like we were secret agents or pirates swimming underwater up to our unsuspecting targets. We pretended as though we were shipwrecked and desperately swam for shore.


When friends joined us we played our favorite game “Star!” Star is a game where one person sits at one end of the pool and speaks the initials of a movie. A group of people, usually anywhere from three to five, sit at the other end of the pool and ask for clues on the movie. When you think you know what the movie is you shout “Star!” and swim as fast as you can to tag the lone person at the end of the pool. Once you tag them you speak the movie title. It’s best when several people shout “Star!” at once. Then it’s an all out race to tag the “It” person. We did anything and everything to beat each other to the end of the pool. We’d try and swim faster, we’d swim over each other, we’d grab bading suits…anything to win. This friendly competition and banging around in the pool would certainly serve me well later on during the chaos of open water triathlon swims.


Despite the fun I had playing with John and other friends in the pool, swimming slowly lost it’s appeal to me as I got into my teenage years. I of course loved to get out on a motor boat and be dragged behind on an intertube, but I never enjoyed getting thrown off because I still harbored that fear of drowning, even though I’d proven to myself time and time again that I could swim. One time while being pulled behind a boat on a tube the tube completely flipped upsidedown. I, being stubborn, clung on for dear life as I was being dragged underneath the surface of the water. Somehow the tube righted itself and I was still there hanging on.


As I became a teenager, I also became conscious of my looks and body image. Being blind, I didn’t really know what I looked like with my shirt off and it just felt weird being at a public pool or at the beach dressed in nothing but my bathing suit. I imagined myself as a pasty white, chubby guy who had no business having his shirt off. I also hated, literally, bumping into people that I didn’t know. Which is an occupational hazard of being blind. So I started avoiding pools and beaches. Despite all of this though, friends would still occasionally talk me into doing stuff around the water with them. After all, we did live in Florida and Florida’s known for it’s water activities.


I spent one memorable day learning how to surf. A wrestling teammate, Kyle Manning, lived just a stone’s throw from the beach and invited a few friends over during one of our last days of high school. I admitted that I really didn’t like the beach but did want to learn to surf. Kyle made it his mission to get me standing up on a surfboard. So we spent several hours that day with Kyle teaching me how to paddle and feel the waves. When I finally did manage to feel the pull of the wave and the board underneath me it was unlike any feeling I’d had before. It wasn’t quite as awesome as dangling 100 feet up on a rockface, but it was still cool to feel the board suddenly become stable under me and then I was standing riding a wave, if only briefly. After that experience I tried surfing a few times but I determined that the ocean just wasn’t my thing. Swimming just wasn’t my thing. After all I didn’t have gills, and unless I grew some I didn’t think I could ever enjoy swimming. So apart from the occasional trip to the beach, I hardly ever swam from the time I graduated high school in 2010 until January 2015 when Mike Melton somehow convinced me that I needed to learn to swim if I had any dream of one day doing a triathlon.


Grasshopper, You Must Learn to Swim


Mike and I’d been running together for about six months while Mike trained to race in Kona and I trained for my first marathon. Shortly after Mike and I completed the Goofy Challenge (Disney half marathon on Saturday and Disney Marathon on Sunday) Mike took me to the downtown Orlando YMCA and began working with me on how to swim. I tried swimming from one end of the 25 yard pool to the other. I crashed into the lane lines on either side, splashed a shit ton of water out of the pool and lifted my head completely out of the water to desperately suck in lung fulls of oxygen. I couldn’t swim more than 25 yards without stopping for several minutes. My shoulders ached, my lungs burned and I thought there was no way in hell I was ever going to get this swimming thing.


But Mike showed tremendous patience. He taught me how to float. How to turn my head to either side to breathe. How to take a stroke. How to kick. And so on and so forth. He took me to several different swim coaches who changed one thing or another tinkering with my swim stroke, body position and breathing until I could somehow do something resembling a swim workout.


Over the course of 2015 and 2016 I transformed from a thrashing mess to being able to comfortably swim several thousand yards during workouts and survive in the open water. I somehow completed numerous triathlons ranging from sprint distance to my first Ironman and I thought I was becoming a pretty good swimmer for a totally blind triathlete.


At the end of 2016 I moved from Orlando to Carbondale, Colo and put my triathlon specific training on hold for several months while I concentrated my efforts on training for my first Boston Marathon. But I had signed up for Ironman 70.3 Boulder in August 2017 and Ironman Arizona 2017. So at some point I needed to get back in the pool. Eventually I did and just cranked out swim sets to the best of my ability doing workouts I found online. Somehow after only eight training swims I pulled off (probably thanks to Matt Miller mostly dragging me through the Boulder Reservoir by my tether) my fastest 70.3 swim at 34 min 16 sec. But I knew I had to spend more time in the water before tackling Ironman Arizona in a scant three months.


Swimming with Mere


In October 2017 I took a trip with my buddy Mike Melton to Kona, Hi during the week of the Ironman World Championship. Mike and I tried to swim in Kailua Bay every day we were there. One afternoon we were browsing through one of the Ironman merchandise tents and I got to chatting with one of the people working the tent. Her name was Meredith and she mentioned that she’d love to maybe meet up and swim with us the next day. She gave me her card and said to let her know when we’d next be down to swim.


Over a lunch of fish and chips—while Mike ribbed me saying I should’ve asked Meredith out on a date—I checked out Meredith’s website. Turns out she’s a former pro triathlete and is now an elite open water marathon swimmer. The open water swim races she competes in are 10 km or longer. Damn, this woman wanted to swim with me? Needless to say I was slightly intimidated.


The next day Mike and I met up with Meredith and Mike suddenly handed her the tether and said “Have fun you two” and took off. Ok, not what we were expecting but Meredith took it in stride. She’d never guided a totally blind swimmer before but she guided spectacularly. We swam together for nearly an hour and a half. Throughout the course of that swim Mere would stop me and make suggestions on how to change my technique. After about 20 min or so she began assigning me workout sets—20 strokes fist drill, 20 strokes easy, 40 strokes hard, etc. We occasionally would stop, tread water or float and just chat. Mere helped me learn that by improving little things in my technique I’d eventually get faster in the water and actually learn to enjoy swimming.


When I got back to Colorado I did my best to implement what Mere had taught me in Kona and I saw a dramatic improvement in my swimming. Maybe this swimming thing wasn’t so bad after all.


Next Strokes


After completing Ironman Arizona with my friend Will Fisher in under 12 hours I took my training to a new level. I was pretty sure my 1 hour 14 min 42 sec swim in Arizona had more to do with Will dragging me through the water than my own swimming ability. So I dedicated myself to getting faster. My friend Tom MacPherson, who’d recently become a triathlon coach, helped me for a few weeks at the beginning of January 2018 to dial in some technique changes. Then I attended a triathlon camp hosted by elite blind female triathlete Amy Dixon where I worked with a couple other coaches on refining certain aspects of my technique. Then I hired multi-time Off Road World Champion triathlete Lesley Paterson to coach me. While Lesley didn’t focus a ton on swim specific technique with me she did help me drastically improve my swim fitness to where I was suddenly able to crank out 3000-4000 yards with ease three to four times a week.


I improved across all three disciplines of triathlon during 2018. When Alan Greening and I pulled off the first sub 11 hour Ironman by a totally blind athlete at Ironman Arizona, we didn’t have the fastest swim we were capable of, but it was one of the smoothest and most efficient open water swims I’d ever executed allowing me to have more in the tank for the bike and then the run.


Two weeks ago I moved to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs where I’m getting used to swimming five days a week. Having taken the previous eight weeks off from swimming my coach, Derick, has spent these first two weeks really stressing technique. Swimming is by far the most mentally taxing of the triathlon disciplines for me because there is so much to think about. Left hand enters water at the 11 o’cclock position; cup the water; point fingers at bottom of pool during entire stroke; rotate body to right side throughout stroke; reach right hand as far as possible to lengthen the body to cover more distance; left hand exits water at left hip; take a breath just before rotating flat and bringing left arm back up above the water to repeat. The slightest turn of the hand in the middle of the swim stroke, or the dropping of the elbow in front toward the bottom of the pool, over rotating to the side can throw off the entire stroke, direction and momentum. The faster I get, the more I focus on the littlest of details. Swimming is also pretty counter intuitive in that the harder you work the slower you go. Swim smooth to swim fast is a mantra I repeat to myself when I’m in the water.


No, I’m still not fast in the water. In fact, I’m probably one of the worst swimmers Derick and others here at the training center have ever seen. But already after two weeks of intense focus I’m seeing improvements in smoothness and efficiency. Yes, I’m impatient and want to be at peak swim fitness already, but I’m trying to trust the process and I know my swim speed and fitness will come back around. Now the question is where is my swim crest and can we make it higher?



Surviving Week 1 at the Olympic Training Center

The Big Move

Well #eyeronvision supporters, it’s here. January, 2019. That means I’ve made the move to Colorado Springs to take up residence at the U.S. Olympic training Center as a member of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team. I was certainly excited, but at the same time anxious, nervous, and for lack of a better term, scared shitless.

Uprooting your life and moving to a city where you know only a handful of people is nerve racking in normal circumstances. Throw in being a totally blind extreme introvert and you get someone who’s nearly a basket case. Granted, I think I hid it pretty well. After all, “fake it till you make it.”

Dad drove Skye and I down to Colorado Springs On Sunday evening and helped me move all of the stuff I brought—primarily clothes and my training bike and Wahoo Kickr bike trainer—into my room on campus first thing Monday morning. Then began the process of trying to figure out where the heck I was going. Dad was able to help me orient a little bit to the campus. At least by the time he left that evening I could somewhat competently make it from my room to the dining hall, to our triathlon training room, to the pool. Confidence would come over the course of the week. But my mantra for the rest of the week was “just survive getting around.”


Monday morning had been reserved for me to move my stuff into the dorm, but Monday afternoon saw my first official duty as a resident team member. And that was a run lactate threshold and VO2 Max test. The test is both awesome and miserable. Cool because I’d only ever read about elite athletes doing the test before and I never thought I’d actually get to do one in my lifetime. And miserable because… well it really fucking hurts.

The test was done in the High Altitude Training Center (HATC) Lab. This is a room that can be adjusted to just about any atmospheric pressure, temperature or humidity level. So rather than doing my test at the actual 6000ish ft of elevation that Colorado Springs is located at, the testers made the room sea level. I then got on a treadmill and a contraption was placed on my head which included a snorkel-like breathing tube which went into my mouth. My nose was then clamped shut and I could only breathe through the snorkel-like mouth piece. This measures the flow of oxygen I take in and the amount of CO2 I exhale as well as the rate at which I breathe and some other things. I kind of tuned out at that point as I was trying not to gag with this rubber hose shoved into my mouth. Oh yeah and then they turned the treadmill on and I had to run.

We started with an easy 10 min warm up with me breathing through the contraption so I could get used to it. Then they let me take the contraption off to get some water and brace myself to actually do work. Then the real test began. First, lactate threshold.

This first test was pretty straight forward. My coach, Derick, set the treadmill at a certain speed and I ran at that speed for three minutes. At the end of those three minutes the physiologist, Carwin, jabbed my index finger with a small needle and took a small sample of blood to measure the amount of lactate in my blood. Then the speed was cranked up a little more and we repeated that process until my blood accumulated a certain amount of lactate. All in all the actual test took about 30 minutes to complete. Then I could walk, stretch and get some water and prepare myself mentally for the VO2 Max test.

The VO2 Max test is basically finding out how much you can suffer. More scientifically though it’s finding the point where you just can’t process oxygen any further and are forced to quit because you can hardly breathe. To do this test, Derick set the treadmill at just below my lactate threshold speed and then proceeded to crank up the incline by one percent grade every minute until I gave up. The goal of the test is to last as long as you can but if you do the test correctly it should take anywhere from six to 12 minutes max. Oh yeah, I had to where the breathing contraption again too. I was able to do the first five or six minutes fairly easily, but once the percent incline got up to around seven percent I started to hurt. “Make it to 10 minutes” I kept trying to repeat to myself, but as the incline rose and I continued running at my threshold pace things began to get a little fuzzy. I pushed on past eight minutes and hung on tip nine minutes. “One more minute!” I screamed in my head. But it wasn’t meant to be. I cried uncle about 30 seconds or so into the ninth minute. Oh well, the next time I do the test I’ll hit 10 minutes.

I don’t specifically know what my numbers were on the lactate threshold and VO2 Max tests, but Derick and Carwin appeared relatively pleased with my results. Then it was off to shower and get ready for dinner.

Dad had stuck around to make sure I navigated around ok and left after dinner. Then I was on my own.

Finding a routine

Routines and schedules give me comfort. While I can fly by the seat of my pants if I need to, I much prefer structure in my day. Since my senior year of high school I’ve found I’m most productive and happy when I have a schedule or routine to follow. So this living at the OTC thing was actually going to work out in my favor because I had to be on time to work outs and there wouldn’t be a ton of wiggle room.

That first morning on my own I was definitely nervous walking into the cafeteria and getting my food. There are a lot of things that have the potential to stress me out, cafeterias are at the top of that list. Getting food and then navigating an unfamiliar place while carrying said food and drink in one hand while holding my guide dog in the other hand is a recipe for disaster. Fortunately this wasn’t the cafeteria staff’s first rodeo and they were all extremely helpful in letting me know what was available to eat and then directing me to a table. Over the course of the next few days I got more and more comfortable navigating around the cafeteria, but I’m still learning where everything is and will continue to move cautiously the entire time I’m living here.

A Two Minute Walk

After surviving the cafeteria it was time to go for a little swim. One of the biggest barriers to me getting in adequate training in the past was access to a pool. When I lived in Orlando, Mike and I lived a short drive from our downtown pool, but the Tri club often worked out at a pool a 45 minute drive away. Then living in the Roaring Fork Valley I had to rely on someone to drive me down the hill to the bus stop. Then I had to wait for a bus that would then take me up valley. I’d then change buses and eventually make it to the pool. Then I’d do the same in reverse. All in all, for a swim that lasts about an hour to an hour and a half would take up a good four plus hours of my day (if I was lucky and everyone was running on time). Now though the pool is literally a two minute walk from my bedroom.

The indoor pool at the OTC is also a 50 meter rather than 25 yard pool. This cheered me immensely because that meant fewer times I had to turn around in the pool meaning fewer opportunities to smash/cut/rip my knuckles and fingers on the pool wall. Derick had apparently been thinking along these same lines as well and had chatted with the Paralympic swim coaches to find out how they coached their blind athletes to not crash into the wall. The system they used was pretty nifty and we adopted it.

When I walked on to the deck of the pool I heard the usually echoes of an indoor pool, but there was also the sound of a couple of sprinklers. Derick had set up a hose at either end of the lane that I’d swim in and positioned the hose so that the water would hit me when I was a few strokes out from the wall. So when I felt the water falling on me from above I’d know I was approaching the wall and could therefore ease up and anticipate the wall and just maybe avoid smashing my fingers. If I’m not careful I’m going to become soft and spoiled with all this pampering.

Since I hadn’t swam since Ironman Arizona, Derick took it easy on me this first week and we focused on just getting my technique back and getting me used to swimming every day. I have a feeling that’ll change in these next couple of weeks.

The rest of the week followed a pretty similar pattern. Get up early to swim, eat in the dining hall, do some kind of test in the afternoon and in general just get comfortable navigating on my own. I hardly spoke to or saw any of my fellow paratriathletes except in passing primarily because I was just focused on surviving getting around and not getting myself lost or causing chaos by tripping over something and sending food flying in the cafeteria. But since I’m writing this now I obviously survived and the past couple of days I’ve actually felt confident that this new living situation is going to work out all right.

So, sorry for the fairly boring report, but in my world boring usually means I haven’t screwed up too badly just yet. But have no fear, I’m sure the next few weeks will bring all kinds of excitement 🙂


2018 Year In Review

2018 Year in Review

Wow, what a year. There were some tremendous highs, a few lows, a lot of learning, growth and development. I pushed myself in ways I didn’t know possible. I was able to turn a hobby into a career and have set myself up for a, hopefully, incredible 2019. Because I know we’re all preparing for some end of year celebrations I’ll keep this #eyeronvision newsletter short and sweet by just hitting a couple of highlights 🙂

January: Attended Camp No Sight No Limits and met several new friends, guides and my eventual coach. Also attended my first Race Across America Training Camp for Team Sea to See and became acquainted with my team members.

February: hired now 5X Off Road Triathlon World Champion Lesley Paterson to coach me for 2018.

March: Took 4th place at my first International Triathlon Union (ITU) race at the CAMTRI American Championship in Sarasota, Fla, guided by my buddy Matt Miller.

April: Through a steady rain, consistent wind and cold, I broke the 4 hour barrier for the first time (3:55:14) in a marathon at the Boston Marathon with my buddy Pete Fowler, beating my previous best marathon time by more than 23 minutes. The race was made even more special because it was my sister, Kelsey’s, first Boston Marathon and getting to share the experience with her was incredible. Oh yeah, I met this crazy Scottish dude named Alan Greening who likes to drink beer and whiskey and who does sub 11 hour Ironman with regularity. Lesley thought we’d get along and thought Alan would be a great person to guide me for Ironman Arizona in November.

Also attended training camp number two for Race Across America with Team Sea to See.

May: Attended the United States Association of Blind Athletes Tandem Cycling Camp hosted at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.

Also finally rode up Independence Pass with my buddy Everet Minute piloting the limo (15 plus miles of nearly 4000 ft of elevation gain topping out at more than 12000 ft above sea level).

June: Race Across America with Team Sea to See. 3067 miles, 180000 plus ft of elevation gain, 12 states, three major mountain ranges, four major rivers, four tandem bikes, four blind/visually impaired stokers, four sighted pilots, three RVs, three 15 passenger vans, a mini-van, 20 plus of the most amazing support crew, 12 person camera crew, starting in Oceanside, Calif and finishing in Annapolis, Md in 7 days 15 hours 3 minutes. We became the first four tandem team with all blind or visually impaired stokers to complete Race Across America. An experience that taught me so much about team work, friendship, stress management, sleep management, pain tolerance, how to turn adversity into an advantage, and how focusing on a vision can bring people together to achieve remarkable things. Of course the ultimate story that everyone always wants to hear about is how Chris Howard and I crashed in Kansas and somehow scraped ourselves off the road to finish strong even though it turned out I had a pretty significant fracture in my right arm. Thank you Chris and the entire crew for helping me gut out those last three or four days. I don’t manage without the support of the entire team.

July: The Lake Christine Fire forces my family to evacuate our home. Fortunately we’re able to return after a few days but we know people who lost everything. It was a sobering event that was a reminder to be grateful for the things we have and to cherish memories over possessions.

Later that month, Kelsey and I ran the Power of 4 25K Trail Race in Aspen. My first official trail race experience and the first time my sister ever guided me in a race/official event. What a blast and I can’t wait to add more trail races to my race calendar.

August: Attended the USA Triathlon/United States Association of Blind Athletes Triathlon Camp hosted at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. This was the first time Alan Greening and I got on the limo together and I’m pretty sure Alan thought he was going to die. But we figured it out and had an awesome camp experience and were confident that we’d be able to pull off a good race at Ironman Arizona in November.

September: Raced Ironman 70.3 Augusta with my buddy Danny Craven and fell just short of my goal of breaking 5 hours finishing the 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike and 13.1 mi run in 5:01:42.

October: Raced my second ITU race at the Sarasota-Bradenton World Cup guided by my buddy Zack Goodman. We were able to grab my first podium with a 2nd place finish despite the race being modified to a duathlon (run, bike, run) rather than a triathlon (swim, bike, run) due to poor water quality.

Less than two weeks after this I was informed that my application to live and train full time at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center as part of the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team was accepted.

November: Ironman Arizona with Alan Greening. 2.4 mi swim, 112 mi bike, 26.2 mi run completed in 10:59:17. We were able to pull off our goal of breaking 11 hours and in doing so I became the first totally blind triathlete to go under 11 hours for an Ironman 140.6 Branded race and only the third person who is blind or visually impaired to do so. Thank you Alan for helping me push through to achieve that goal we’d set.

December: Attended the United States Association of Blind athletes Marathon National Championship at the California International Marathon as a spectator and social media representative for USABA. What a blast cheering on and sharing the stories of so many awesome athletes.

I then spent a few days with my good friend Deb Yoder who was one of our RV Managers for Race Across America and who guided at the USABA Marathon National Championship despite the fact that she lost nearly everything she owned in the Paradise Fires only a few weeks before. Spending those couple of days with Deb showed me once again the power of community and how we choose to confront adversity is so important.

Only a few days after returning from California I went to Colorado Springs and covered the USA Paracycling Track National Championships via Twitter for the United States Association of Blind Athletes.

A couple of days later I flew to Florida to visit my older sister, brother-in-law and brand-new niece for some much needed family and relaxation time.

Now it’s the last day of the year. A day to look back and reflect on the year past, but also a time to look forward to the year ahead. There’s no doubt I had some epic experiences in 2018. I don’t accomplish any of them without the incredible team of people that helped me along the way.

Thank you to everyone who guided me on runs, bike rides and in races. Thank you to my friends and family who helped support me mentally and emotionally through this year of ups and downs. Thank you especially to Team Sea to See for the opportunity to be part of such an incredible history making endeavor. Hopefully we can continue the work we set out to do and help shrink that 70 percent joblessness rate among the blind and visually impaired community.

Thank you to my coach, Lesley Paterson, for pushing me to all new heights I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make. Also thank you for introducing me to Alan. Speaking of whom, thanks mate for not just being an awesome guide for our record setting performance in Arizona, but thanks for becoming such a good friend. Can’t wait to race with you again—or drink a beer or share a glass of scotch, or a dish of creme brule.

Thank you also to my sponsors and supporters who made it possible for me to turn this triathlon and adventure seeking lifestyle into a career.

And, last but certainly not least, thank you to all of you in the #eyeronvision community! You all have been with me cheering me on and supporting me from afar. Your energy and support is much needed and appreciated. Thank you for following me on social media, reading my newsletters and for just being awesome 🙂

Now our attention turns to 2019. I’m excited for this new year and the opportunities it’s going to bring. In 2018 I was able to keep an “eye on my vision” of raising the bar in the blind and visually impaired athletic community and I think we made strides in making people aware of the athletic and professional capabilities of the blind and visually impaired. In 2019 I’ll continue to push myself to get better and grow more as an athlete, professional and overall person.

Remember everyone, no matter the circumstance, that your attitude will determine your altitude and always keep an “eye on your vision!” See you in 2019!


Kyle Coon