Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all of the #eyeronvision family!
I’m not breaking any new ground on stating that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years across the board in a long time. From a pandemic, to social, political and economic tensions we’ve seen so many things thrown our way. Some we’ve handled, others we continue to work on, and others we’ve pushed aside or failed to address.
2020 is often seen as perfect, clear, or excellent eyesight. We always say hindsight is 2020. I wonder if the year 2020 will change that expression… Maybe, maybe not. Nevertheless, this year has been far from perfect, excellent or clear for anyone.
But in this season of Thanksgiving we still have much to be thankful for. But rather than list out all of the things I’m thankful for this year I want to take a short trip back through time.

In 1620 a group of Puritan Christians left England and sales across the Atlantic Ocean to settle at Plymouth Massachusetts. Over th course of that first year they struggled with raising crops, defending their settlement from who they took for hostile Native Americans, and generally struggled to stay alive from other factors such as sickness.
In 1605, a Native American named Tisquantum was captured and brought back to England. He learned English and eventually returned to North America to serve as a guide and interpreter for English colonists before he was captured by rival English settlers and sold into slavery in Spain. He eventually escaped back to North America only to find his tribe wiped out by smallpox. He took up residence with another tribe and in the winter of 1620-1621 he met those same Puritan Pilgrims. Due to his knowledge of their language and culture he was able to act as an interpreter and mediator between the pilgrims and the Chief of the tribe he’d been adopted into. Additionally he began helping the Pilgrims with farming and fishing techniques that would allow them to survive in their new home.
In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims and Native Americans came together to celebrate a festival of Thanks for the first truly successful harvest of the settlement of Plymouth. Thanks was given to God, The Spirits, the land, the leadership of both the Pilgrims and Native Americans, to Tisquantum, and many more people and things.
The celebration continued off and on for the next 200 years, sometimes being celebrated, sometimes not until Abraham Lincoln declared it a Federal Holiday in 1863, Ulysses Grant signed it into Law in 1870, and Congress passed it as a Federal Payed Holiday in 1885.
Today we generally celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering with friends and family over food, drink and conversation. We list things that we are thankful for—health, life, happiness, God, food, etc.
This year, 399 years after that first Thanksgiving celebration, we’re still trying to understand what Thanksgiving really means. Is it a day of gluttony? A day that we list off everything we’re thankful for? A day for prayer? Everyone has their own interpretation of Thanksgiving and what it means to them. Everyone has their own ways of celebrating this holiday and time of year.
I can’t help but look back at the story of Thanksgiving and see so many parallels to today. Aren’t we still struggling to get along with our neighbors? Aren’t we still trying to fight for survival in different ways? I look at that first Thanksgiving and notice how two groups struggled side-by-side for survival but somehow came together to celebrate their commonalities and differences.
In today’s world we exaggerate those things that make us different on social media. We fight with our neighbors over politics, economics, and social responsibility. At the end of the day, aren’t these the same issues the Native Americans and Pilgrims fought over?

So for this Thanksgiving, let’s definitely remember all the things we’re truly grateful for. I’m truly thankful for a family that supports me in my crazy endeavors. I’m thankful that my immediate family all live in the same state and that I am able to spend this very important holiday with them. I’m thankful for the opportunities afforded me as an Elite Paratriathlete getting to live and train our of the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. I’m thankful for my teammates ranging from my guides, to coaches, to training partners, etc. I’m thankful that I live in the greatest country on earth where I have the power to choose my own destiny as long as I’m willing to work hard to achieve that destiny. And yes, I’m thankful for all the hard times and events that have brought me to today. Whether that be going blind, being unemployed, having friends, colleagues, and acquaintances whose views differ (sometimes quite radically) from my own. I’m thankful for it all because it means I’m still here, alive, and continuing to try and grow into whoever I’m meant to be. When I stop being thankful for it all I’ll be worse than dead.

What are you thankful for? Who are you thankful for? Are you thankful for the good, the bad, and the ugly? (Yes dad, I’m even thankful for my bad hairline and big nose that you like to make fun of LOL.)

Today let’s remember what Thanksgiving means to each of us. Celebrate your family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, allies, enemies, frenemies, health, wealth, happiness, sadness, frustration… Shoot celebrate a pumpkin spiced latte if you want. And if you can’t be with those you want to celebrate with in person, find a way to celebrate together virtually via phone, social media, Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Google Hangouts, Whatsapp, anyway you can. Embrace everything this Holiday means to everyone.

Once again, Happy Thanksgiving!


Kyle Coon

Race Report: Operation Colorado > COVID

Operation Colorado > COVID Race Report
June 19-20, 2020
483 mi from Utah to Kansas

I was in my tuck behind Alex doing my best to be as small as possible to slice through the air as fast as possible as we bombed down Highway 24 from Woodland Park down toward Colorado Springs. We were alternating coasting and spinning in our biggest gear but we were going so fast that pedaling was doing little to nothing. We’d latched onto the draft of a motorbike going somewhere in the neighborhood of 55mph/88kmph and he began to pull away. We put down just a little power to try and stay in the draft and suddenly I felt the timing chain pop off. “Fck!” I’m pretty sure I screamed. (The timing chain is what connects the pilot and stoker pedals and is how the pilot generates power back to the drive chain which turns the gears attached to the rear wheel.) Alex briefly unclipped thinking he could kick the chain back on with his shoe, but we did the smart and safe thing by pulling over to the side of the road and fixing the chain. Barely three minutes after we got back up to around 50mph/80kmph though I felt the thing that I really hate feeling on a bike—the snapping of a chain. This time I’m positive I screamed “Fck!” Along with some other four letter words and invoking the name of multiple deities. I really thought our race against the sun was over.

The Start
It was our coach, Derick Williamson, who dreamed up Operation Colorado Over COVID. We were roughly seven weeks into our new normal of self isolated COVID life. The Olympic/Paralympic Training Center was nonoperational except for feeding the handful of athletes who’d chosen to remain living on campus in hopes that we’d be able to resume something resembling training in the near future. There was no word from the USOPC or any International Governing Bodies on projections for getting things back up and running. I’d come off a pretty solid block where I’d again increased my 20 min power and I was now finally pushing better than 3.5 to 1 watts per kilo but had pushed myself so hard that I was now nursing a very tender IT band.
I lived in this limbo of wanting to stay on top of my training and wanting to just curl up in a ball and feel sorry for myself. The times I looked forward to the most came when I could talk to my girlfriend over FaceTime audio, and the three times a day I went to collect meals from the cafeteria when I had some form of human contact when I interacted with the cafeteria workers who made it their mission to keep our spirits up and bellies full to the best of their ability. They have no idea how much I looked forward to conversing with them and how sane they kept me.
I knew my fellow Paratriathlon Resident teammates had to also being feeling something similar so I was beyond stoked when Derick proposed a relay style bike ride across the State of Colorado. Not only would we have something to set our minds on to train for, but we could use this opportunity to raise money for those who weren’t as lucky as we were during COVID. The triathlon/endurance community has been hit pretty hard and the USA Triathlon Foundation had set up a relief fund to try and help race directors, coaches, and athletes who had lost their primary sources of income due to the cancellation of so many events across the world. We also recognized that with the massive loss of jobs across Colorado, food was critical to peoples survival. We were lucky that we had so much food prepared for us and we would never go hungry, but there are so many who rely on food banks for mere fractions of what we had available. So we wanted to do our best to help both causes. We set a goal of raising $20210 and splitting the proceeds between the USA Triathlon Foundation’s COVID Relief Fund and the Care and Share Foodbank for Southern Colorado.
And so we set our sights on preparing for and completing our own race.
Having taken part in the ultimate bike relay race just two years earlier (Race Across America) I did my best to help square away some of the logistics of actually getting us from Utah to Kansas. I recruited Paul Majors, who’d been our head mechanic for RAAM and was a general logistics guru having been on multiple RAAM crews, to help as well. The plan was to begin at sunset on June 19 and finish by sunset June 20. Our reason was that June 20 was the summer solstice and therefore gave us the most daylight in which to ride. I recruited my primary training guide in Colorado springs—former pro triathlete—Alex Libin to be my pilot and we were able to get permission for Alex to come on complex once a week to collect me so we could ride the tandem together. We dubbed our ride Operation Colorado Over (>) COVID and it gave me in particular something to focus on besides how incredibly bored and miserable I could become just sitting around my room all day. Finally, the day arrived.

Race Day
“Race week!” My strength and conditioning coach, Sam, emailed me the morning of June 19 in response to my email announcing the beginning of the race against the sun that evening. Sam had been in Florida with us eager to watch us race when our Tokyo Selection event was canceled due to COVID. All week he’d been amped up and every time he saw any of us on campus he’d yell “Race week!” It was a reminder to me that we as athletes weren’t the only ones eager to get out and compete. Those people who’s jobs it was to train us, and keep us as strong and healthy as possible were eager to see us compete again, even if it was just against the sun.
Our team of cyclists were as follows:
Hailey Danz: Paratriathlete, 2016 Paralympic Silver Medalist and Tokyo hopeful
Melissa stockwell: Paratriathlete, 2016 Paralympic Bronze Medalist, and Tokyo hopeful
Kendall Gretsch: Paratriathlete, 2x 2018 Paralympic Nordic skiing Gold Medalist, and Tokyo hopeful
Kevin McDowell: ITU able-bodied pro, and 2020 Tokyo hopeful
Jack Oneal: Paratriathlete, future Paralympic hopeful and our youngest teammate (only 17, but strong as an ox)
Renee Tomlin: ITU able-bodied pro and 2020 Tokyo hopeful
Rocky Harris: USA Triathlon CEO
Allysa Seely: Paratriathlete, 2016 Paralympic Gold Medalist, 2020 Tokyo hopeful
We also had tons of help from volunteer crew as drivers and navigators and mechanics. Derick and Joseph (one of our mechanics) stuck behind or right around each rider when we were out on the road acting as our follow van/support wagon while the rest of the riders were shuttled up the road. Just like we’d done with Team Sea to See in 2018, riders were put on teams of two or three bikes to maximize speed with short pulls ranging from 20-40 minutes in duration. Hailey, Melissa and Kendall got us rolling beginning at 6:30 PM at the Utah/Colorado border and trading off pulls for 93 miles until they reached Montrose, where the rest of us had congregated to wait. Then it was up to Alex, Kevin and myself to get us through the middle of the night over some gnarly technical terrain.

Team 2, shift 1
Alex and I stood by my Chinook Time Trial Tandem as Hailey and Kendall seemed to bounce out of the shuttle van with excitement. Melissa was out on the road finishing up the last pull of the shift. Then it would be mine and Alex’s turn to ride. Melissa came cruising into the parking lot of the Toyota Dealership we’d posted up in and enthusiastically screamed “Go Kyle and Alex! Go! Go! Go!”
Alex and I clipped in and pushed off. I had that old bubbly excitement that comes with the first real steps of an adventure. Our first pull was longer than I would’ve liked for speed purposes, but logistically there weren’t any safe places to pull over to do an exchange with Kevin. So Alex and I started off pedaling easy but ramped it up the steeper the road got. We wound up climbing the majority of the first 12 miles (20km) or so. All the while Derick was in my ear giving encouragement and updates as what to expect coming up ahead. Our shuttle van manned by Joseph L, Sev, and Tracy were also in contact with our follow van and us via radio letting us know where they were located and staging Kevin. Alex and I finally ground our way up over the top of a particularly long steep ascent that topped out around 8000 ft in elevation and bombed downhill for the next 5 mi (8km) or so. It had taken us more than 50 minutes to go just a hair over 20K and a fraction of that time to cover the next 8k. We averaged better than 40mph downhill and briefly touched 50mph before having to lay on the breaks as we slid to a stop and sent Kevin on his way. Kevin attacked the next 25K section with gusto and then handed it off to us again.
It was by now the coldest part of the night and I’d put on both arm and leg warmers to stave off the chill. We time trialed for about 25K holding about 42 mph on average as we only had a couple of little steep kickers. For the most part this section was flat or rolling allowing us to hold quite a bit of speed. Plus we didn’t want to get cold so we had to pedal hard to keep warm. We handed it back off to Kevin to pull into Gunnison and leap frogged ahead to Gunnison where we met up with the RV that Hailey had secured for the team. Kevin rolled in and turned duties over to the team comprising Jack, Renee, and Rocky. This team had a tough slog of a shift as they began riding around 3:00 AM and climbed up and over Monarch pass which at over 11000 ft would be the highest elevation point on the route. According to some projections Derick and Paul had drawn up prior to the start of the race we were ahead of schedule. Kevin, Alex and I started playing a little game looking at the projected time for our next shift and seeing if we could beat it. Our first shift was to have taken 3 hours 48 minutes. Kevin challenged Alex and I that we three could complete it in 3 hours 28 minutes. So we tried and I’m pretty sure we beat that goal. But now it was time to fuel up and rest. Knowing the importance of rest in 24 hour relays I quickly changed out of my sweaty kit, grabbed a quick bite and curled up in an RV bunk doing my best to nap.
We drove to our next Vehicle Meet Point to wait for Team 3 to finish their shift. I think I napped around an hour but as I expected it was just enough to get me through the rest of the race.
We’d parked in a gas station parking lot and when the gas station opened for business a few people went in to get coffee. I was in desperate need of caffein, so Mark (our volunteer RV driver) brought me a large steaming cup of jo. Mark, I owe you a massive thank you and look forward to returning the favor as soon as I can. That cup of coffee kept me well caffeinated for the next 12 hours or so.
Team 3 rolled in right on time and we sent Team 1 back out on the road to tackle the stretch that would take us up and over Wilkerson Pass. This shift in my opinion was the most challenging. There was a lot of elevation gain, it was at a tough time of day and there were some pretty tricky descents. Nevertheless Hailey, Melissa and Kendall handled it like the champs they are.

Team 2, Shift 2
Alex Kevin and I waited with Team 3 at the RV while Team 1 ground their way through the terrain. We expected them to arrive around 10:00 AM, but that came and went and no one could get cell service to contact Derick or Joseph in the follow van. Radios weren’t picking anything up except the occasional direction or instruction from Derick so we kept having to guess at the girls location. They finally rolled in after Kendall did a screaming fast descent of Wilkerson Pass holding better than 40mph in her hand cycle. And people think I’m crazy for riding 50mph on a tandem. 40mph on a piece of equipment that low to the ground where car tires are taller than you?… That’s crazy!
Alex and I rolled out just before noon. We had now fallen just a bit behind our goal of 24 hours and had to push to close that gap. Alex and I rode hard but had a long climb with little descending. We still maintained a 30Kmph pace to our first exchange with Kevin who bombed downhill hitting better than 80Kmph weaving in and out of traffic as our shuttle van raced to stay ahead of him. Then Alex and I hammered away at a small climb and then got into our arrow tucks for what we’d been anticipating since we’d finalized the route we’d take—the screaming descent down Highway 24 from Woodland Parkdown to the outskirts of Colorado Springs. For a good while we were crushing the descent flying at more than 50mph (80kmph) and had even tucked into the draft of a motorbike. And that’s when near disaster struck as the timing chain came off. Alex kept the bike upright and we were able to descend a bit further while making our way to the shoulder of the road. We had to disconnect the quick link on the timing chain and with Joseph (our mechanic) helping us, we got the chain back on. Shortly after we got rolling again though the quick link failed and the chain broke apart and flew off the cranks landing somewhere on the Highway. Alex again got us to the shoulder and we stood there wondering if our ride was over. I seriously thought we either wouldn’t be able to retrieve the chain and if we did that it would be unsalvageable. Zack and I’d been having issues with the timing chain coming off numerous times in the early part of 2020 and I figured it was time to replace the chain in general. Joseph was able to retrieve the chain and had a spare quick link in his bag of tools. He tightened the bottom bracket much tighter than we generally would and we prayed another quick link wouldn’t fail. We made it down the rest of the descent and linked up with Allysa Seely who’d ride through Colorado Springs, circumstances not allowing her to be in constant rotation with us the entire time.
Alex and I were bummed that our chain had decided to fail us twice as we were really looking forward to chasing some of the best known times down 24. We knew we probably wouldn’t get the overall time, but it would’ve been fun to see how close we could safely get. I made a mental note to get new chains and maybe a bigger chain ring for downhill KOM (King of the Mountains) chasing attempts.
Allysa road from our exchange point to Colorado Springs City Hall where the entire team took a knee on the steps for 8min 46 seconds before continuing on. We shuttled up ahead to an exchange point where Kevin took back over from Allysa and then Alex and I time trialed the last pull of the shift. At around 25K and slightly uphill into a headwind this particular pull hurt quite a bit. Not to mention I was tense constantly expecting the chain to snap again. It held though and Alex and I were able to hold around 42kmph for that particular pull before handing it off to Team 3.
Now the exchanges and shift change overs were coming fast and furious.

The Final Push
We were more than 350 miles into our race against the sun with less than 150 miles to go. We all knew we had to push the pace in order to beat the sunset. We weren’t going to make it in 24 hours, but we could still finish before the sun sank below the horizon at 8:30 PM. Jack, Renee and Rocky hammered their shift as we got further and further east in Colorado. Then Hailey, Melissa and Kendall had one more very short shift totaling around 20 miles. And then it was back to Alex, Kevin and I for our last shift which was one pull each of about 25K.
Both Alex and I were feeling the effects of the last 24 hours. Alex had been up since 5 AM the day before as he had to get a full day of work in before heading to Montrose to start the ride. Then he only got a brief nap between shifts. Plus, he hadn’t time trialed like this in a couple of years since retiring from full time triathlon. I was also fatigued, my legs were feeling heavy and my confidence was shaky. I trusted Alex on the front of the bike but this 25K pull was on a super busy road with lots of truck traffic and the wind had rarely been in Alex’s and my favor. Additionally, we had the suspect timing chain. Nevertheless we clipped in and pedalled. We didn’t have the strength to time trial like we would in a sprint triathlon, so we settled into a strong tempo effort, something we’d hold for an Ironman and were able to roll into our final exchange with Kevin holding around 41kmph for that final hard 25K pull. Kevin went out and hammered his 25K stretch clawing back a bit of time averaging nearly 45kmph. Then it was back to Team 3 for one last fast shift.
The rest of us shuttled up to a point a little less than a mile from the Kansas State line and cheered as Jack road in on his final pull. Then we all got on our bikes and soft pedaled the final stretch to Kansas.
A little more than 25 hours after Team 1 took the first pedal strokes we reached the eastern edge of Colorado. 483 miles averaging around 20-21mph and climbing more than 22000 ft with a motley crew of triathletes with different strengths and weaknesses we accomplished something we could be proud of. What was great was that it wasn’t about us as individual athletes. It took each team doing their part to get us across the state. Even better, just hours before we started riding on June 19 we’d reached our primary fundraising goal of $20210 and had surpassed it by the end of the ride.

Some Parting Thoughts:
There is a concept that was popularized by British Cycling over the last 15 or so years. That concept is “Marginal Gains.” The thought is that small changes or actions yield big results and differences. Funnily enough athletes and people in general know this. When we were brainstorming hashtag and fundraising ideas I proposed 1 penny per mile or $4.83, what seems very small, but multiply that out by 10, 20, 30 people it becomes a big number very quickly. I took the idea from doubling a penny 64 times. Start with and double it 64 times you wind ups with $180 quadrillion. A small change can make a big difference. The same went for what we did in the race itself. Originally the plan was to just use 15 passenger vans and for each team to sleep in those vans at each VMP. However, an RV would allow us to socialize better as well as stretch out. A little thing that went a long way. Renting radios for each rider seems like a big expense but when riders are out there cycling up a hill, tired unsure if they have 1 mile, or 5 miles left an encouraging voice in their ear helps them through. Small changes over time yield big differences.
I think that’s one of things I love most about ultra distance racing as a team. Small pieces come together and each piece plays it’s roll. I am not the strongest cyclist or triathlete on our team but brought a certain skill set that aided in us getting across Colorado in time to beat the sun. Rocky constantly joked that he was our weakest cyclist and he hoped he wouldn’t hold us back. However, Rocky was sandbagging as the combination of him, Jack and Renee blasting up Monarch Pass and time trialing their legs off on the eastern plains kept us on and ahead of schedule.
Originally we had a sprinter van that was going to act as a floater and media vehicle but they quickly jumped in to help become a shuttle van because they were the only vehicle large enough to quickly load and unload my tandem to keep us on pace. Also, Joseph L (who’s owned said sprinter van) hopped out on his bike and rode with Kendall as she tore down Wilkerson Pass down amongst the tires of speeding traffic. Everyone plays their part and collectively work together to make the team a success. We didn’t focus on any one cyclist, group or issue. We saw problems and did the best we could to fix them quickly and efficiently. Everyone who lent a hand played an important role and we can’t thank every single one of you enough. From those who helped us as volunteer drivers, to those who donated, to those of you who just virtually cheered us on, you all were part of Operation Colorado > COVID. We thank you! And if you missed out on this round, I heard some rumblings among the team that they want to do it again someday. So keep an eye out 🙂

Until then always keep an “Eye On Your Vision!”


Kyle Coon


Is Awareness Enough?

I started doing these Thursday Thoughts posts for several reasons. I want to share some of the values, traits and lessons that have shaped me into the person I am today. I want to give people a glimpse into how I think, what motivates me, and some of the stuff that goes on in my head. The next two weeks, maybe three, I want to give you some of my musings on some topics and issues that have been circulating in my head.

I recently perused an article titled “Changing People’s Behavior: Awareness Alone Is Not Enough.” The article was Tweeted by one of my friends and fellow Visually Impaired sub 11 hour Ironman, Erich Manser. Erich is a major advocate for accessibility and inclusion. So I clicked on the article thinking it would be an article relating to disability. The article actually discussed the usefulness of “Screen Time.” You know that little report that pops up on your phone saying how much time you spent on your phone, computer or tablet this past week?

I quickly skimmed through the article which discussed the pros and cons of screen time and whether or not making people “aware” was enough to make them change the amount of time they actually spend on their various screens. In short, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Awareness is critical, but if you really want to change your behavior then awareness has to be backed up with action.

The reason this article triggered this post is because October was “National Disability Employment Awareness Month,” and “Blindness Awareness Month.” So often people in the disability community say “If we just make people aware of the capabilities of people with disabilities then we will eventually whittle down the obscenely high joblessness rate that exists in the disability community.” I myself have often subscribed to this line of thinking. “People just dn’t know,” I’ve often said. I do think that there are a large number of people out there that aren’t aware of our capabilities, but I wonder if “awareness” is enough anymore.

In 1990, The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law. This Act attempted to even the playing field and give people with disabilities a more fair chance in a wide range of the American way of life. The ADA has opened many doors and for the most part discourages blatant discrimination based on disability. Like it or not though, discrimination on disability still exists. There is a large segment of the population that sees a person with a disability and unknowingly down grades them in their mind thinking them less capable. It is by no means malicious, but it happens. We certainly see this in the blind and visually impaired community. For the past 30 or so years there have been claims by numerous organizations that 70 percent of the blind and visually impaired population is out of work. Are these numbers accurate, it’s hard to say for sure. We do know that there are numerous cases of highly qualified individuals who are blind or visually impaired that wind up either not working or working in jobs that are far below their qualifications. I’ve seen numbers suggesting upwards of 60 percent of people who are blind or visually impaired have a post secondary degree. When I worked for Lighthouse Works in 2014 and 2015 I wore numerous hats—inbound/outbound call center agent, quality assurance specialist, front desk manager, and Advocacy Coordinator. I had numerous colleagues who were also blind or visually impaired. One co-worker had a PHD in Marine Biology, another had multiple degrees in Psychology, other colleagues had tremendous experience in computer software development, construction management, etc. And we were all working as call center agents for an organization that specifically employed people who were blind or visually impaired. We worked there because we believed in the mission, but more often than not we worked there because we couldn’t get jobs anywhere else.

One of my duties as the Advocacy Coordinator was to lead tours of our facilities to members of government and high level community organizations to make them aware of what we were doing at Lighthouse. Some of this awareness generated business leads, some generated grant, State or Federal funding for certain programs. And sometimes I struggled because I felt like I was almost showing zoo animals. I felt very strongly that we were doing great things at Lighthouse though. So I busted my butt doing the best job I could and I encouraged my fellow blind and visually impaired colleagues to think outside the box, to find ways of becoming more valuable as employees and work their way up the ladder. I was hopeful that I myself might eventually work my way into a senior management position.

Eventually I was offered an opportunity to make more money and have a possible long term career with the Department of the Navy as a civilian. That job was much less glamorous but paid nearly twice as much as my job with Lighthouse. But I struggled in this job for a variety of reasons. One reason was because I couldn’t shake the thought that I was just hired to fill a quota or that I was a token hire. From my perspective I didn’t see the point of my position. The people I was supposed to be assisting didn’t need me. There were many more factors that led to my leaving that job, but I largely left because I didn’t feel it was where I was supposed to be.

In early 2017, a Facebook ad popped up on my news feed. A couple of blind and visually impaired businessmen were putting together a team of cyclists to participate in the Race Across America to raise awareness of the 70 percent joblessness rate in the blind and visually impaired community. I submitted my application to be considered as a cyclist, but wound up being invited onto the team as a Communication Coordinator and alternate cyclist. Later on I was elevated to the starting line up when one of the original stokers had to step away due to some family obligations. I of course was stoked about participating in the iconic Race Across America, but I was more excited about the potential awareness we could raise. Our team had three incredibly successful blind and visually impaired individuals that we could use as role models and examples of what you could do as a person who is blind or visually impaired. I really look up to my RAAM teammates for their success in business, life and athletics. In my duties as the Communication Coordinator for Team Sea to See, I eagerly pushed their stories out to the media attempting to drum up as much coverage of the team doing the race as possible. We got some decent publicity and I’m hopeful that we can continue to raise awareness once the documentary of our crosscountry race is finished—but that’s still probably a year or two away.

In 2019, we live in the digital age where we can drum up awareness easier than ever before through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, blogs, etc. And yet I still wonder if the awareness we are drumming up is enough. A recent decision by the US Supreme Court to not hear a case regarding whether Dominos Pizza should have an accessible website and mobile application certainly brought discussions about digital accessibility and inclusion to the forefront of many people’s minds. The “Let us play us” campaign which champions Hollywood hiring more disabled actors to play the roles of disabled individuals in movies and TV shows has also been gaining traction as well. So yes, I think awareness has been critical and has worked overall but I’m curious to see what companies, individuals, and organizations that aren’t necessarily related to promoting people with disabilities is going to take action and show that the disabled and able bodied worlds can not just live side-by-side, or co-exist, but thrive together.

Personally, I think the wider circles that I run in—triathlon and the Olympics/Paralympics—have a golden opportunity to show ultimate inclusion. It’s just a question of who is willing to find a way of making it happen rather than finding ways it wouldn’t be possible… Whoa Kyle, what are some of these ideas you have? Well, I’ll cover those in next week’s Thursday Thoughts.


“I suggest we adopt the term grit!” (Tom Coughlin)

Have you ever been to the beach? You know how the sand will cling to you for what seems like forever, even after you try to wash it off? Or have you ever had some renovations done on your house and the dust and grit seems to hang around for weeks no matter how much you vacuum, mop, sweep or dust? That dust, sand, debris is often called “grit” and we’ve adopted that term to describe a trait that can define us as people.

I recently read an article written by Dr. Paul Stoltz who co-authored a book with my friend and mentor Erik Weihenmayer—the Adversity Advantage. Dr. Stoltz’s most recent article that I was reading discussed how Universities and employers should admit and hire people based on their “grit” factor or score. That article made me remember another article I’d read by running coach Jason Coop. Jason Coop discussed some of the key traits in ultra runners. He pointed to grit being one of those key traits. These articles sent me down the rabbit hole of exploring “grit” which caused me to read an article in Forbs which cited research from Angela Duckworth—a leader in grit research.

The Webster dictionary defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.” Duckworth says it’s “perseverance and passion for long term goals.” And Coop interprets it as “a trait that allows some people to work harder more frequently and give up on tasks less frequently.” They’re all correct. And Dr. Stoltz is correct in saying grit plays a vital role in our success. It’s not the only factor in determining success, but it is important and it has certainly been critical in my life.

Grit is a trait that’s made up of characteristics such as determination, perseverance, persistence, resilience, toughness, and many others. We admire these characteristics in people and teams. Just like that sand, dirt or dust that refuses to go away no matter how much we scrub. Why? We admire grit because when we have grit we’re never out; we’re always in the fight with a chance to win. And we all want to be in the position to win. So how do we develop grit?

Speaking from experience, grit is developed over time. We learn grit through facing adversity. I have the distinct advantage of beginning my grit development very early. Spending the first six years of your life in and out of cancer treatment is a great way to begin developing grit. I didn’t view those years of fighting cancer as character development until I was in my 20s though. Many of my cancer memories are beginning to fade, but they served their purpose. Those years made me willing to embrace sucky circumstances and situations a little easier. They made me willing to push my body and mind far beyond comfort, sometimes to my detriment, sometimes my benefit.

I got a taste of hard core grit building in July 2008 on the slopes of Mt. St. Helens. Accompanied by my friends Brad Jaffke and Peter Green, we climbed from our camp at 4200 ft to the summit in around five hours. We then descended and got lost in our greedy pursuit of glissading opportunities. So we wound up having to traverse across a broad expanse of the mountain. That traverse included clambering over massive volcanic boulders, tiptoeing across a nearly 60 degree snow slope, and nearly 12 hours in rented plastic mountaineering boots half a size too big for me. As I staggered and stumbled my way into the parking lot I had little cuts and scrapes all up and down my legs, as well as some bashed up forearms and elbows.

Two years later I had a similar experience on Gannet Peak—tallest peak in Wyoming. I’d poorly prepared physically for the demands of a 50 plus mile round trip hike on one of the most grueling peaks in Wyoming. Day one was a grinding 16 mile day with several thousand ft of elevation gain that took more than 12 hours. Half dollar sized blisters on my heels plagued me the remainder of the climb, which for me ended 2000 vertical ft below the summit. Over the course of the final two days of the climb I hiked about 25 miles over grueling rocky terrain carrying a 60 pound backpack and shouldering the disappointment of failing to be the first blind person to summit Gannet.

Those two trips, St. Helens and Gannet, hardened me both physically and mentally allowing me to draw on those experiences when I got into endurance racing. I was able to draw on the physical pain and mental anguish of not achieving a goal during my first marathon to walk/jog my way to a nearly six hour finish despite being severely undertrained. A little more than a year later I again drew on the experience from Gannet and St. Helens to grind out a nearly 16 hour finish at my first Ironman, despite again being severely undertrained—do we see a pattern here?

In 2018 I battled a minor stress fracture in my foot at the beginning of the season which limited my running in my build up to the Boston Marathon. Then at Boston itself I ran my first sub 4 hour marathon in the worst weather conditions Boston has ever seen—40-43 degrees, raining and windy. In June my pilot and I crashed our bike during Race Across America causing me to fracture the radius up near my right elbow. I gritted out the remaining 1500 plus miles to be a part of the first team with all blind and visually impaired stokers to finish RAAM. And later that year, despite frigid water, rubbing breaks, and an upset stomach I gritted my way to a sub 11 hour finish at Ironman Arizona.

Now, you don’t have to have cancer, scramble your way through volcanic rock knowing that one wrong step will send you at best to the hospital and worst to your death, or ride your bike half way across the country with a broken arm to develop grit. More than anything I was able to survive these and many other experiences and big days through the daily grind of life. Comfortable with being uncomfortable is an athlete mindset and mantra that we develop through day in day out simple, consistent, repeatable actions. Consistently push yourself a little further mentally and/or physically each day. The key is to go just far enough so that when adversity strikes you can draw upon those little experiences and say “I got this!”

One of my favorite ways to develop both physical and mental grit is a one month daily challenge. In the build up to Ironman Arizona 2018, my guide, Alan Greening, challenged me to do 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and drink no alcohol every day during the month of October. The first week was easy, it was the last three weeks that were hard. The physical push of doing the calisthenics every day did get easier but the mental discipline to keep getting after it and the mental exercise of denying myself something pleasurable (a beer at the end of the day) helped prepare me to gut out the last 10k of the Ironman Arizona marathon when in order to hit my goal of sub 11 hours I had to push myself physically and dig deep mentally to deny simple pleasures like water and a quick walk break at an aid station. Sure, I also had years and years of grit and toughness in the bank to draw from, but it starts with the daily push to go a little harder and a little farther.

Maybe you aren’t ready to rip off 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats and give up alcohol for a month. Maybe your not concerned with developing physical grit. You can still adopt these same principles. Say you want to develop mental grit by monitoring your diet. Get a notebook and write down everything you eat, every day, for one month. Don’t use fancy fitness tracking apps or take photos or anything like that. Physically write or type it out. The primary goal here is to build grit with a side effect of seeing exactly what you’re consuming. You don’t necessarily have to consciously make×anges in your diet. I guarantee the first few days you’ll do it no problem and write everything down in great detail. After a while though you’ll start to skip the snacks, skip the sugar packet or dash of creamer you put in your coffee. Don’t skimp! Knuckle down and finish what you started! Later on down the road when your boss comes to you and says they want detailed reports for the next month. As those final days of the month are dwindling away you’ll harken back to that daily log you kept and realize that if you could withstand writing down every single thing that you put in your body you can certainly get this work done that you’re being paid to do. This exercise works with journaling, reading, saving money, whatever you want. Grit development is consistent, repeatable discipline. To borrow a cliche shoe company slogan, “Just do it!”

Chasing Your Best

Chasing Your Best

Eragon: “I’m doing my best.”

Oromis: “No, this is not your best. We shall recognize your best when it appears.” He paused thoughtfully. “Perhaps it would help if you had a fellow student to compete with. Then we might see your best.”

(Passage from Eldest by Christopher Paolini.)

There’s a plastic shoe box in my closet in my parents house in Carbondale, Colorado. In that box are a bunch of ribbons and medals. Most are finisher/participation medals from triathlons and road races that I’ve completed since 2014. There are also a handful of ribbons from my brief career as a competitive rock climber in 2002 and 2003. A handful of medals hang on a display rack on my bedroom wall—Ironman Boulder 2016; Ironman Arizona 2017 and 2018; Walt Disney World Goofy Challenge 2015; Boston Marathon 2017 and 2018; as well as a few others. In my dorm room at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center I have my ITU medals hanging in front of my bed where I reach to grab my guide dog’s harness or a change of clothes. Every time I reach I hit the medals and they clang together. 2nd Sarasota Paratriathlon World Cup; 2nd CAMTRI American Championships; 3rd World Paratriathlon Series Milan; 2nd Magog Paratriathlon World Cup; 2nd USA Paratriathlon National Championship. In my almost 28 years I’ve never been the best at something… Well, except once. Buried in that shoe box is a crumpled Blue Ribbon from the 2005 James Weldon Johnson College Preparatory Middle School History Fair, Research Paper Division. That year’s history fair topic was “Communication in History.” At the urging of my seventh-grade geography teacher I wrote a research paper on Braille and how it contributed to the improvement of the lives of the blind and visually impaired.

Nearly 15 years later I’m fascinated by this 1st place Blue Ribbon. The History Fair topic “Communication” wound up being what I studied in college, it’s what I technically do for a living, and it’s something I’m at once good at as well as terrible at. Another thing that fascinates me is the subject of that research paper—Braille. A system of reading and writing developed by a young French boy who just wanted to read. Once he developed the system he began teaching it to others, and then made it a goal to spread it to as many blind people across the globe as possible. Roughly 176 years after Louis Braille’s death, Braille is seemingly threatened by digital technology such as screenreading softwares and fewer kids than ever are learning to use Braille. However, this isn’t a post lamenting progress. I mention Louis Braille because, in my opinion, he’s possibly the most influential—some might say the greatest—blind person in history.

As people we all want to be great or the best at something. We want to be the greatest employee, boss, co-worker, spouse, sibbling, parent, athlete. As an athlete competing on an international level representing the United States the goal is to stand on top of podiums. It’s spelled out in the agreement/contract I sign as a resident athlete at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center. If I fail—i.e., finish off the podium—then I get no funding and am subject to dismissal from the program.

Growing up I chased being the best. I was frustrated at how much easier it was for so many others. In my first year of competitive climbing I consistently placed in the top five or six at competitions even placing as high as second once. The next year, despite increases in strength and experience I struggled in every comp never finishing higher than second to last place. The next year, I was completely out of competitive climbing.

In middle and high school I chased academic and athletic greatness. Despite winning a 1st place ribbon for my research paper on Braille in seventh-grade, I failed to place at Regionals and never went on to the statewide competition. In high school, I always came second to my older sister in grades and test scores. In my chosen sport of wrestling, I drove myself crazy trying to make it to the Florida State Tournament, but never placed higher than third in a tournament and never made it out of the second round of the Regional Tournament.

In college I vowed to wrestle all four years of my eligibility but fell out of love with the sport and quit halfway through my second year because I was sick of the injuries, skin infections, and I just wasn’t any good. A year and a half later I graduated after just three years of study and went into the workforce ready to prove I could be the best at whatever career I chose. A year later I was turned down for a bagboy job at a supermarket. A year after that, the relationship that I’d been in for four years with a girl I thought I was going to marry fell apart as well.

In 2014, I turned to running as a distraction, as a way to chase away my mental demons. That morphed into triathlon, Ironman and eventually chasing representing the USA at the Paralympics in Paratriathlon. So far my chase to represent the US at Tokyo 2020 isn’t going bad, but it’s not going great either. In major races I’ve failed to deliver either by not getting onto the podium or not finishing within the correct time percentage of the winner to earn a spot on the National Team (which is how we receive funding from USA Triathlon). I’ve been passed over several times to represent the US at other major international competitions and now I’m currently battling my biggest physical setback.

I’ve been told I need to have a more positive attitude/mindset, that I need to live more in the moment, spin things more positively. It is something I’ve tried very hard to do, but it’s really hard. When you’ve chased being your best your entire life, and quit more often than not, it’s hard to not look back over your results and question whether they really were successes. Did I really do my best? Did I really give everything I had, or was there a little more that I could have given?

Yes, this post makes it sound like I’m purely chasing medals or outside recognition, but to be truthful I’m chasing something deep inside. An urge, a fire that life continually tries to put out. My friend and mentor, Erik Weihenmayer was once given the advice “Don’t let Everest be the greatest thing you ever do.” Well, I haven’t summited my Everest just yet. Triathlon is that thing that has made me turn my life inside out and up side down. It’s something that I wasn’t particularly talented at, something where I really had to build from the ground up. Right now, chasing those who continue to finish ahead of me on the race course is the closest I’ve been to finding my best, but I’m not there yet.

I’ve had many setbacks, physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. Many of them I don’t talk about. Those setbacks, bounce backs, triumphs and failures all define me. There have been many times that I’ve quit and others where I haven’t. Retired Admiral William H. McGraven said in his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas “If you want to change the world don’t EVER, EVER ring the bell.” Winston Churchill was once asked to give a piece of advice to a group of middle school-aged boys. He stood up and said “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up,” and then sat back down. So when I reach for Skye’s harness, a fresh T-shirt or pair of pants, my hand hits those second and third place ITU medals. When I’m back home and I rummage through that box of participation medals to find that crumpled blue ribbon; when I re-read my previous race reports; when I scroll back through my memories of past successes and failures; I’m reminded to never give up, to never quit, and to never ring the bell.

If you want to be great or be the best, find that passion that makes you sick and satisfied at the same time. Find the thing that reminds you to keep pushing for your best. And whatever you do, do not settle or be satisfied with anything less than your best, no matter how others try to spin it. You’ll know when you find it.

Quality or Quantity

 Quality or Quantity

I hung on the side of the pool my head leaning against my arms. My shoulders burned, my lats screamed in protest, and my mouth felt coated in chemicals from all the chlorine that had passed through it. My goggles were squeezing my face a little tighter than usual and my brain was foggy from both concentrating on the new technique changes in my stroke and from general work out fatigue. I was 2800 meters into a swim set which included a 1200 meter warm up and I’d just completed the fourth 400 meter set of a 2000 meter main set. I’d done ok on the first set—going out a little hard as I’m one to do. Second set was a bit better. Third set I’d fallen off the pace and fourth set I felt was absolutely horrible. Derick stood on deck and a very big part of me wanted him to say “Kyle let’s call it a day. You’re going backwards again.” But I didn’t hear those blessed words. Instead I heard, “10 seconds… 5… 3, 2, 1, Go!” And so began my fifth 400 of the main set.

After the swim was over I sat on the pool deck with my head in my hands, physically and mentally drained. Derick came over and asked me what I did today? Thinking back to some of the themes we’d been working I took a stab at it. “I went out too hard again?”

“Even bigger picture than that,” Derick said, “You paid some dues today.”

For the majority of my life I’ve identified as an athlete. “Push through no matter how hard,” “If I don’t mind it don’t matter,” “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” are mantras that were pounded into my head as a kid.

In recent years the “less is more” philosophy has gained popularity amongst athletes—particularly the endurance community. High intensity interval training (HIIT) and high quality training is all the rage. Athletes who came from the older school mindset of high volume low intensity training, or the Eddy Merckx philosophy of “ride lots,” now rave about low volume high intensity and how they wish they’d switched sooner. It’s only natural that we want to do more with less. We want to go faster by going slower; longer by going shorter; make more money by spending less time in the office. So few people seek out the hard ways of doing something.

For the most part I can agree with this mindset. Quality work and training will trump quantity every day, but sometimes you gotta get the work done. Let’s look at my “real job” as an example. I’m a Marketing Assistant for Hickory Foods, the company that owns Bubba Burger—You’ll never bite a burger better than a Bubba. My primary duty is to expand the Bubba Burger brand through various marketing techniques. These include wearing Bubba Burger apparel, giving away Bubba Burger merchandise (hats, T-shirts, coupons, stress burgers, etc) and posting on social media. There are several of us that have access to the Bubba Burger social media accounts. My boss is incredible at consistent “serial posting.” He’s the guy that travels to hundreds of events across the country and has more opportunities to post a wider variety of content. On the other end of the spectrum, I spend the majority of my time at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center sticking to a pretty strict training schedule. Our 62000 plus Facebook fans would get pretty bored pretty quickly with me posting photos of me in my Bubba Burger gear on the treadmill, bike trainer or lifting weights. So I have to be more strategic with my posts. However, my strategic and targeted posts wouldn’t be as effective without my boss’s consistent wide variety content posts. The two go hand in hand much like HIIT and high volume low intensity training do.

In a previous post I talked about the differences between elites and amateurs and how elites do simple better. One of the ways elites/pros do simple better is knowing when to go hard and when to go easy. Granted, some of us still have issues with that. I probably go too hard on my easy days and not hard enough on my hard days, but I’ve gotten much better at managing that. However, one of the reasons I’ve been able to understand the differences between going easy and going hard is because I have a lot of meters and miles (both from training and racing) in my body and mind.

As I progress in my elite/professional triathlon career I learn how to make more workouts higher quality. A wrestling coach once imparted the wisdom to me that “practice makes perfect, only if you practice perfect.” This means that there’s no such thing as a wasted practice or training session as long as you go in with the right mindset. If you practice poor technique and effort then you will compete with poor technique and effort. For a very long time I was frustrated that I wasn’t swimming faster so I pushed myself hard. However, once I started swimming five days a week it became really hard to keep up that effort output. So I had to make a mental shift. When it was time to go easy I went really easy and spent that time really dialing in my stroke technique. Slowly over the course of this season I’ve swam more than 500 thousand yards and have gotten significantly faster but it wasn’t by doing more with less effort, or more with more effort, or less with more effort. I did it by correctly managing how and when to focus.

So when it comes to the question of “quality or quantity” the answer is really pretty simple. It depends on your goals. For me, and most triathletes who seek to get faster at our chosen distances, one can’t exist without the other. More importantly the path to success lies in understanding that there are no shortcuts. There are going to be days when we have to “pay our dues” and days when we’ll have to check our egos at the door. Find what works for you in your chosen pursuit, whether that be triathlon, running, swimming, cycling, social media, nutrition, etc.

21 Years

Last Friday night

Yeah we danced on tabletops

And we took too many shots

Think we kissed, but I forgot. Last Friday night.

Yeah, we maxed our credit cards

And got kicked out of the bar, so we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night

We went streaking in the park

Sky dipping in the dark, then had a

Menage a trois

Last Friday night

Yeah, I think we broke the law

Always say we’re gonna stop-op, oh whoa

—Last Friday Night (TGIF) by Katie Perry

Ah 21… The age when we in the US can legally drink alcohol, when we think we’re really adults, and think we know absolutely everything. I often cringe, laugh, and shake my head at the things I did around the time I was 21. Seven years removed from that “wild age” I feel significantly older and a touch wiser. But if I want to relive those wild and crazy days I have the opportunity because “Blind Kyle” turns 21 today!

On October 9, 1998 mom and dad drove me to the hospital just like they’d done hundreds of times before. But something was different. Mom had gotten up extra early and instead of her usual sweat pants and ponytail, she’d dressed nicely, done her hair and put on makeup. Dad was extra quiet and the early morning before sunrise appeared extra dark outside the car window. Walking into the hospital everything seemed extra dark as well.

I knew why we were here. I knew our last option to beat the cancer I had was to remove my right eye. After all, Dr. Hered had removed my left eye just the year before.

I was tired. Tired of waking up early to go to the hospital. I was tired of needles being driven into my chest to put me to sleep so the doctors could do whatever they did to my eyes. I was tired of being sick from chemotherapy, having to swallow all different kinds of pills, having radioactive material sown onto my eyeball. I was tired of the smell and sound of the hospital. I was also tired of straining my one eye to see the chalkboard in my first grade teacher’s classroom. I was tired of the lights either being too bright or too dim. I was tired of feeling strange for having to walk around with this long white cane practicing for when I couldn’t see. I was just ready to be done with it all.

Normally only one of my parents was allowed to walk back with me as I was wheeled into the operating room. Today though, both mom and dad accompanied me, one on either side with their hands on my arm or shoulder. I’d already been stuck with the needle and the anesthesia was working it’s way through my system. Mom touched my face and asked me to look at her. I did and that was the most beautiful I’d ever seen her. As I closed my eyes and the crushing crackling haze of the sleep drugs closed in around my mind I do remember saying “It’s going to be ok mommy.”

The next thing I remember was drowsily coming awake in my hospital bed, hooked up to an IV with a massive wad of bandages covering my right eye. There was nothing in front of me, or around me. There were the familiar sounds of my parents voices, the ding of the hospital intercom calling for this doctor or that nurse. The hospital bed felt like hundreds of other hospital beds I’d woken up in after some procedure or another. The smells were all the same and the hospital food was as plain and tasteless as it always was. Could I get a bigger helping this time? Or better yet, could you just bring me a pizza? Do you have any idea how hungry surgery makes me?

The only thing that was different was that I couldn’t see what was around me.

What would happen to me as a totally blind kid, teenager, adult? The answer to that question was as absent as my light perception. I had no idea. My family had no idea. All I knew was that I wanted to somehow still play with my friends, play basketball, and ride my bike. I wanted to watch Disney movies, Star Wars and football games. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it all, but I mst’ve known that I could, otherwise I wouldn’t have said “It’s going to be ok.”

It was just a short while later that I met world-class blind athlete Erik Weihenmayer. He was a rock climber, sky diver, downhill skier, and did all kinds of stuff I’d never heard of or thought was possible.

Erik’s dad, Ed, lived less than an hour drive from our house in Jacksonville. A family friend heard Ed speak and passed his contact information along to my dad. Ed and dad had both served in the Marine Corps so they instantly hit it off. Erik was coming to town for a series of speaking engagements and Ed arranged time for Erik to talk with me.

My parents told me about this Erik Weihenmayer guy, but come on, who did that crazy stuff. Climb walls? Jump out of airplanes? I imagined this guy to be some kind of super human.

When I met Erik he shook my hand and asked our dads to just step away so the two of us could talk. Erik introduced me to his guide dog. He asked me questions about myself. What I liked to do, my favorite subjects in school. We talked about Braille, computers and eventually he got around to telling me about his adventurous lifestyle.

I was fascinated. The only experience I’d had with other blind people were the handful of blind/visually impaired kids at my elementary school. I’d never really interacted with any adult blind people. Erik wasn’t treating me like a normal adult would either. He was talking to me like I was an equal, like he knew the struggles I was having adapting to a world that was now dark.

When we parted ways Erik told me to not be afraid to live and be a kid. He told me to give rock climbing a try and that he’d always be there if I needed a friend. Less than two years later, my sisters and I were competitive rock climbers. My family was taking long camping and rock climbing trips up into the Appalachian and Smokey Mountains. We then started taking family ski trips. My dad and I began tandem biking a lot.

In 2003, I was a surprise guest to Erik on the Oprah Winfrey Show after he’d climbed the seven summits—tallest peak on each continent. In 2006, I accompanied Erik and a team comprised of visually impaired and sighted students from across the US to hike the Ankascocha Trail into Machu Picchu. In 2007, I joined up with many of those same visually impaired and sighted students to summit Mt Kilimanjaro—tallest mountain in Africa. I climbed some more mountains; became a high school and college wrestler; graduated from an academic magnet high school; and earned my B.A. in Communication from the Comniversity of Central Florida after just three years of study. Then I took on life as an adult blind guy.

Post college I had the millennial mindset of “I’m going to apply for every job CEO and above.” That didn’t work out so well for me. Then I began applying for any and every job. At every turn it seemed I wasn’t getting a fair chance. The low point was not getting a bag boy job at a local supermarket. I was spiraling down fast after having been so positive and optimistic for so long.

I eventually started running as a distraction. That led to meeting my buddy Mike who introduced me to triathlon. Then began an emotional roller coaster.

I began working for a nonprofit about who’s mission I cared deeply. I then developed a cancerous bump on my upper right eyelid which was surgically removed. I was finding success in a sport I loved. My engagement to a girl I’d been dating for four years fell apart. Now I was not in that relationship and I needed a place to live. I struggled with thinking I was in a dead end job. Then I got a raise and changed jobs. I blew all of my money on pizza and craft beer. I lost my faithful guide dog of seven years to a sudden heart attack. Then completed my first Ironman and decided that I wasn’t truly happy with my life. I quit my steady well-paying job and moved to Colorado.

Once ensconced in Colorado, I focused on improving athletically. I went on to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon, twice, and set personal bests at various distances of triathlons and road races. In 2017, I broke the 12 hour barrier at Ironman Arizona. In 2018, I stepped into the world of ITU racing with fourth and second place finishes. Then I broke the 11 hour mark with a 10:59:17 finish at Ironman Arizona. Then I set my sights on qualifying for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

In January, 2019, I moved to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, having been offered a spot through the USA Triathlon Resident Program. I happily submitted myself to the daily routine of wake up, train, eat sleep, repeat. I’ve thrived with the structure and taken my short course racing to a completely new level. In my five triathlon/duathlon starts I hit the podium four times including three seconds, a third, and fourth place finishes. My loan race off the podium came in my last race of the season in Tokyo which was modified to a duathlon due to poor water quality.

Apart from training I’ve slowly become more friendly with my fellow paratriathlon teammates as well as several other resident athletes from other sports. I’ve also made a few friends outside of the training center and am overall enjoying my life in Colorado Springs. So, how does blind Kyle plan on spending his 21st birthday/anniversary? Well, I plan on rounding up a crowd, doing 21 shots of Don Julio, dancing on bar and tabletops, and maxing out multiple creditcards… Or maybe I’ll get together with a few friends around a fire pit and drink a few good craft brews… Or maybe I’ll go out for a decent steak… Or more likely I’ll eat whatever is here at the training center and go to bed around 8 PM ready to get after it tomorrow. But have no fear, I’ll toast 21 years of blindness with a glass of chocolate milk, or a nalgeen of water. Yeah, 21 year old blind Kyle is likes to party hard.

Cover Fire First

Before you become a sniper, learn to lay down cover fire.

In May 2013, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a BA in Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. In a nutshell that means I can speak to various sized groups of people and write a decent research paper. I initially planned to enroll in a graduate certificate program in Nonprofit Management thinking I wanted a career in the nonprofit sector. To make a long story longer, I enrolled in the program, quickly realized I didn’t have the experience to contribute anything to class discussions, that I don’t do well with online learning, and I was sick and tired of doing school work. I wanted to start doing something, applying myself in the real world, making money, etc. I was a millennial after all, these were the days of young people succeeding early, the days of FIRE (financially independent retire early), and who needs extra education anyway?! So I quit the program and dove into the job search with the very millennial mindset of “I’m going to apply for everything CEO and above” forgetting of course that one of the reasons I cited for quitting grad school was “not enough experience to contribute to online class discussions.”

In my mind I had the experience to at least be a mid-level manager or at least make a decent living. So I figured I’d be able to pick and choose my opportunities. My dad on the otherhand felt differently and continually told me “You can’t be a sniper until you learn to lay down cover fire.” In other words, I couldn’t be a specialist without first learning the basics and building a foundation.

Eventually I learned that I didn’t have as much experience as I thought and I needed to lower my expectations. I applied and interviewed for many different jobs under the sun ranging from grocery store bagboy to in store salesman, to call center agent. I got a job working for a social enterprise nonprofit called Lighthouse Works, worked my way up over the next couple of years before being recruited away by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division. Personal circumstances caused me to decide to leave my comfortable job with the Navy and move out to Colorado. Once in Colorado I filled my time with triathlon training.

My triathlon career has followed much the same arc as my limited professional career with a few exceptions. I began racing triathlon with the goal of becoming the fastest blind Ironman of all time. At the beginning of 2015 the fastest Ironman time posted by a visually impaired athlete was 11:40:27. That time was soon lowered to 11:10:28, then 11:08:30 and 11:03:31. By the time I set foot on the start line of Ironman Arizona in 2018 the fastest visually impaired Ironman time was 10:42:59, and the fastest by a totally blind Ironman was 11:03:31. I did set the fastest time for a totally blind Ironman at 10:59:17 only after four full years of figuring out how to be a triathlete.

Over the course of those four years people kept insisting that Ironman wasn’t where I should be focusing my efforts. Several people said I should go to race on the Paratriathlon ITU circuit. I resisted for several reasons. I initially looked into ITU racing but it was harder than pulling teeth trying to figure out how to get onto the circuit. I’d send emails and get back a generic response with a link to lots of paperwork. I sent Facebook messages to athletes who were on the circuit seeking advice or guidance. I got little of either. So I summized that getting onto the ITU circuit was much like trying to get into an exclusive fraternity or club and I wasn’t about to beg and plead to get into some snobbish club. Not to mention ITU racing is significantly more expensive than Ironman (maybe I’ll get into those specifics in a post down the road). Plus those ITU blind guys were rediculously fast and I decided that I wouldn’t set foot on the same course with them until I had a fighting chance. In order to have a fighting chance I needed to become a better triathlete in general. And Ironman gave me that opportunity to develop as a triathlete more easily than fighting to get into the ITU club.

On the surface people view triathlon as the longer the event the more advanced. Sometimes that’s true. Ablebodied ITU athletes generally race sprint and Olympic distance for a while before stepping up to 70.3 before stepping up to 140.6. The idea is to develop speed and then add distance. But you can’t develop speed without a foundation. I quickly learned that I was not going to be fast at any distance of triathlon if I didn’t first have a tremendous base of swimming, cycling and running under my belt. So I did what I should have done much earlier in my employment search, I put down cover fire, training and racing at all distances.

In 2015 and 2016 I completed 18 races (10 triathlons and 8 foot/road races) ranging from 5k runs, to sprint triathlons, to marathons and an Ironman. If you’re interested here are those races listed out:

Date: Race; Time

01/10/2015: Disney Half Marathon; 2:24:42

01/11/2015: Disney Marathon; 5:49:06

04/26/2015: St. Anthony’s Triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run); 3:25:14

06/07/2015: Pineapple Man Triathlon (0.34 mi swim, 15.4 mi bike, 3.4 mi run); 1:32:27

07/11/2015: Clermont Sprint Triathlon (0.25 mi swim, 10 mi bike, 5k run); 1:21:59

08/08/2015: Clermont Sprint Triathlon; 1:17:21

09/27/2015: Augusta 70.3 (1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike, 13.1 mi run); 6:10:24

11/21/2015: Run Nona 5k; 26:59

11/21/2015: Run Nona 15k; 1:43:33

12/06/2015: OUC Half Marathon; 2:17:00

01/10/2016: Disney Marathon; 5:12:29

03/20/2016: Great Clermont Triathlon (1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run); 2:55:29

04/10/2016: Florida 70.3; 6:31:01

04/17/2016: Starwars Half Marathon; 2:18:45

04/24/2016: St. Anthony’s Triathlon; 2:50:32

06/05/2016: Pineapple Man Triathlon; 1:28:12

08/07/2016: Ironman Boulder; 15:47:11

12/04/2016: California International Marathon; 4:31:16

Laying down this foundation of racing allowed me to then narrow my focus in 2017 and 2018 to become more of an Ironman specialist. Becoming an Ironman specialist also continued to build a tremendous base for me to pull from when I then turned my whole focus to the ITU circuit at the beginning of 2019. After four years of laying down cover fire I finally felt I was ready to go head-to-head with those really fast blind guys on the ITU circuit. So how can you apply my dad’s advice to your circumstance? “Before you become a sniper, learn to lay down cover fire.”


 “You never study for a test. You review for a test. Studying is what you do every day.”  These were just some of the words of wisdom that my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Sciullo, dropped on his classes throughout his career. It’s a common theme throughout life. We hear about the all night study sessions for high school and college final exams. I myself had one or two all-nighters in college, but it wasn’t because I needed to cram in study time for an exam. They were because I ran out of time to write the final draft of a research paper. In short, I got lazy.

Last week I discussed what separates elites from amateurs and that is… Elites “do simple better,” and they “keep it stupid simple.” One of the easiest ways to begin doing simple better is to do the equivalent of studying every day. For my sport of triathlon that means consistent, high quality training in swim, bike and run. (We’ll discuss the “high quality” part of this in a separate post.)

My first triathlon was April of 2015. For the first two years of my triathlon dabbling I was consistently inconsistent. I’d occasionally have big weeks of training where I’d crank out massive yardage in the pool, have a long 70 plus mile bike ride on the weekend and also get in a 10 plus mile run. More often than not though I had many weeks of mediocre inconsistent training. Then in the two weeks leading upto a race I’d crank out some big sessions. In other words I was cramming for the test, not consistently studying every day. Somehow, even with this cram style training plan, I stumble bumbled my way to finishing an Ironman—much like how so many students who cram for their exams and pass.

Sure I was proud of my accomplishment. Finishing an Ironman isn’t easy. I knew I could do better though, but it wasn’t going to happen magically. Triathlon, more than most sports, is a sport that rewards consistent hard work. Beginning in 2017 I began taking steps toward studying every day. The first four months of the year I dedicated to improving my run since my first event of the year was the Boston Marathon. Once I was done with Boston I began consistently spending time on my bike trainer. After nearly every bike ride I spent 15-20 minutes running on the treadmill to get my legs used to that feeling of running off the bike. Then I added swimming back into the mix and began consistently swimming three or four times a week. In 2016, my build up to Ironman Boulder was marked by inconsistency with a long bike ride of more than 80 miles. In 2017, I was more consistent and my longest bike ride was just over 60 miles. However, my overall mileage was up. There was more in the bank from which to pull. At the end of 2017, I completed Ironman Arizona in 11:46:43 (4 hours and 28 seconds faster than I’d completed Ironman Boulder in 2016).

I went into 2018 with the goal of breaking 11 hours in an Ironman. I again chose Ironman Arizona. If I’d become consistent in 2017, then 2018 I became boarderline obsessed. I was very balanced across swim, bike and run training and rarely missed a workout. Because I was consistent in 2017 and 2018, that allowed my coach and I to also increase the volume of key workouts. In my build up to Ironman Arizona 2018 I had several 100 plus mile bike rides and numerous 20 mile runs. As a result of both consistency and big training sessions that allowed me to have an epic result at Ironman Arizona where I went 10:59:17.

Moving to the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has only reinforced the importance of consistency. The correct balance of consistent hard work with big blocks has resulted in positive results. However, I would not have had a successful 2019 without having had a consistent 2017 and 2018. Yes, it’s sexy and badass to have the massive 100 plus mile bike rides with 10000 ft of elevation gain. But those big days are not the reason behind why I continue to be successful and near the top of the podium at races. They certainly had their place in my training, but consistency above all else was the simplest way to make that jump from average triathlon or Ironman finisher to competing for podium sponts on the Paratriathlon ITU circuit.

I’ve spent a lot of time illustrating the importance of simplicity and consistency in my sport of triathlon, but these principles exist in all areas of our lives. Sure we here about the seemingly big splash successes, of the people winning the lottery, selling a company for millions or billions of dollars. Sometimes we get lucky but more often than not we make our own luck through consistent work. And contrary to what we might think, consistency is not easy. It gets easier especially once you see the success start to pile up, but in the beginning it’s really hard. Whether it’s starting and continuing to take money out of your paycheck and putting it into an investment account; or getting up every morning to workout; or practice a musical instrument; or what have you. The second hardest thing to do is get started, the hardest thing to do is become consistent. The simpler things are the easier it is to become consistent and the better you will become at doing the simple things.

Simplicity leads to consistency, which leads to quantity, which allows you to focus on quality. So for now I’ll leave you to think about how you can “consistently do simple better.” Remember the words of my high school chemistry teacher… “You never study for a test. You review for a test. Studying is what you do every day.”

Thursday Thoughts: Introducing KISS

What’s the biggest difference between elites and amateurs?

In high school, my competitive sport of choice was wrestling. I was a decent wrestler throughout my career. I improved steadily from my freshman to senior year. At the time though it felt like I wasn’t progressing at all. At that time in my life I was much more of a hothead. (I’m still a bit of a hothead but I’ve become better at controlling it.) I also tended to blame others for my problems more readily. I’m not winning matches, it must be the coach’s fault. Coach doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I know way more than everyone else. I and so many of my high school wrestling teammates kept searching for that wrestling move or style that would turn us into winners.

The summer between my sophomore and junior year I attended a camp run by former Olympian Ken Chertow. Some of the camp coaches taught some advanced/fun/flashy techniques and styles that went way over my head. However, at the beginning of every session we started with simple, basic drills and techniques that I thought I mastered. Eventually, I learned though that if I couldn’t hit a double or single leg takedown in a match I hadn’t mastered two of the most basic ways to score points in wrestling. Going into Ken’s camp my biggest weakness in wrestling was being taken down. I was decent and strong once we got to the ground but opposing coaches quickly realized this and began playing what I called “catch and release.” My opponents would take me down, disengage and stand up releasing me to score one point (since they were scoring two points per takedown they’d win easily). Ken’s advice when I told him my problem was remarkably simple and basic

[1] get stronger

[2] don’t get taken down

[3] take the other guy down

It short “don’t over complicate things.” I eventually did what Ken advised me to do. I went on to have a better junior year than sophomore year and a pretty good senior year.

Eventually, I made my way to triathlon a sport that encompasses swim, bike, run, and so much more. Triathletes are known for pushing the envelope on innovation. Triathletes are quick to adopt new techniques and technologies especially if they think it’ll make them faster. My friend and one of my triathlon mentors, Mike Melton, and I often joked that we could make a fortune by turning our old race T-shirts into blankets and marketing them to triathletes saying that if you wrap yourself in this special blanket you will recover better and be faster. But I digress… So often we think more is always better. More gadgets, more information, more distance, more opinions. Sometimes more is better, other times less is better, more often than not we need to find the middle.

One of the biggest barriers to people getting into triathlon is worry over complexity. Triathlon today seems to outsiders to be this immensely complicated sport, especially when you get people talking about their functional threshold power, training stress score, swim drills, single leg pedal drills, bounding drills, and whether functional strength training, HIIT training or olympic lifting is better. Not to mention all the various recovery techniques such as foam rolling, compression boots, dry needling, electrical stimulation, mindfulness… And I won’t even mention the debates that rage around nutrition. Is there any wonder why triathlon seems intimidating and complicated?

The first mistake that 90 plus percent of amateur/age group triathletes make is the same one that my high school wrestling teammates and I did. They look for the magic tool or technique that’s going to make them faster with less effort in the shortest amount of time. Fans, friends, family, and others that I’ve spoken with in passing so often remark “Oh I’d be an elite athlete too if I had all that time, those tools and techniques that you have at your disposal at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center.” This is the second mistake that so many people make when distinguishing between elite and amateur athletes. Elites don’t have some secret training program, diet, recovery tool, technique, gadget, gismo, or what have you. The biggest difference between elites and amateurs is something my coach Derick Williamson preaches to everyone and it’s something that has sunk into my being over the length of my athletic career. Elites “Do Simple Better!” Or as my dad taught me throughout childhood, “Keep It Simple Stupid.” Or flip it around as my friend and USA Triathlon teammate Jamie Brown does and say “Keep It Stupid Simple!”

There is no secret when it comes to training, racing, recovery, nutrition, etc. The same goes for our general lives as well. Do simple better and you will succeed. True success does take time though and unfortunately my generation appears to be the most impatient generation. My dad often says that today’s kids are significantly smarter than generations past, however we do lack a certain wisdom which only comes through hard work, and time. I’m not immune to impatience but I know that as long as I continue to do simple better and keep it stupid simple I will progress and succeed in triathlon and life.