My Second International Race with Team USA



As i waited in the holding tent, my stomach did its final flipflop. The announcer shouted, “and from the United States- Amy Dixon!”

The crowd gathered against the barriers formed a chute, and my guide Lindsey and I marched proudly down the blue carpet.  I stuck my hand out, and high fived the outstretched hand of my coach and several spectators. We made our way down the slippery steep dock to the water. We said “LETS DO THIS” as we lowered ourselves into the water, making our final goggle adjustments.  We swam a few hard strokes in our tight long-sleeve wetsuits, and readied for the starting gun.

About 3 minutes into my swim, I began to smile.  Our pace was rhythmical, and our strokes were smooth and powerful, perfectly matched to my partner swimming tethered to my waist off to my right.  We were swimming along the seawall, when I looked up to the sidewalk running parallel to us, and saw Debbie, my Team Red White and Blue teammate and volunteer, walking along with us, leading my beautiful Labrador Guide Dog Elvis.  I began to relax and smile, and settled into a fast and easy swim despite the slightly choppy water of Lake Michigan

We ran out of the water and got onto the bike quickly after a fairly fast transition.  We were almost positive we were the First Ladies out of the water, but there were a few tandems kicking about.  We headed out for our first bike lap.  As we hit the first straightaway on the T-Shaped course, we went to switch from the middle ring to the big ring on the bike, only to discover that it wouldn’t shift.  I begged Lindsey to keep trying.  Finally, before we made our first 90 degree turn, it mirculously cooperate3d and we patted the bike and said “good Girl Palomino”

The team manager, the night before had gone over each specific lap of the bike course with us. It was a very very technical course and several athletes were confused, ourselves included. After my Guide Lindsey had stood up during the athletes briefing, and directly asked the technical delegate of the race about the number of laps on the bike course we were more confused than ever. Our team manager took us aside and explained each individual lap to us and encouraged us to cut seven pieces of electrical duct tape and tape them to the bike, one for each lap. He explained that we needed to take the first piece of tape off when the fountain was to our right on the course. This seemed confusing to us but we deferred to his expertise and went home to sleep.

Our bike split time was fast and furious. The bike course was very technical with three 180° turns, no easy feat on a tandem bike. My neck was beginning to cramp up from turning my head sharply to the right and laying my forehead down on Lindsey’s back. I tore the final piece of tape off of the bike and discovered that we were keeping pace with some of the men!  Both of the ladies teams were behind us and we were well on our way to victory!

we ran out of transition in the blistering heat next to Buckingham fountain to the screams of “Go Dixon! Go team USA!”   Lindsay pointed out to me almost immediately that I was running way too fast given my plan for my race. She and I both knew that I could not hold that pace for the entire 3 miles.  I worked on slowing down and slowing my breathing and grabbed a water from the first aid station. Lindsay gave me the rundown on where the other two teams were in relation to our race. We were a full lap ahead of both the Canadians and about half a lap ahead of Patricia the current reigning national champion. I settled in and knew I had tough work ahead.

The heat went from uncomfortable to absolutely insufferable in mere minutes. I did my best to manage my heat exchange by dumping water on my head at Each aid station. The water was uncomfortably warm and did little to cool my head. On the second half around final lap Patricia breezed easily by us. We pushed into our final lap and saw the finish line as we rounded Buckingham fountain for the third time. I would be taking home the silver medal and my second international race!  We hugged and smiled as we crossed the finish line and jumped for sheer joy and excitement.

As we grabbed ice and cold towels in the athlete recovery area we were so utterly excited and in sheer disbelief.  I called my mom immediately to share the good news. Current reigning world and national champion male blind triathlete Aaron Scheidies gave us a huge hug and congratulations.  Then we saw the white board up on the wall of the tent. “why is our number three up there?” Lindsey and I both asked our coach. “Did you do the correct number of laps on the bike course?” “Yes absolutely!” We replied at once. “We followed your plan to a T!”

We stepped into the tent where the international triathlon union officials were gathered. Both our coach and team manager located the timing director for the race. We waited nervously while he grabbed our results from the computer. Our hearts sank as he showed us that we did not cross the timing mat for an eighth time. We were speechless.  There was no arguing with the official. We had indeed not done enough laps. It was not seven laps, but in fact eight laps that we were supposed to do. We were told the wrong plan.

We spent the rest of the day trying to focus on all the good things  that happened leading up to that huge disappointment. We ran an incredible race despite the disqualification. We learned to make sure we are the only ones responsible for knowing the course properly going forward. Our teamwork was impeccable, our paces were exceptional, and our communication was flawless. Given the tough result, I couldn’t be happier with my race and with my wonderful guide Lindsey.  We learned a very difficult lesson and that was to trust our gut.

So next we are onto USA paracycling national championships in two days in Madison Wisconsin.  We will have a chance at redemption. We need to trust our training and put our faith in our strength as a team.   I couldn’t be more proud of that day.  My next race with team USA is in Magog Canada on July 19. Nothing but the podium will be acceptable! Go USA!

If you or your company would like to help Amy reach her Paralympic goals with team USA, you can contribute here:


Race Day (Pan Am Tri Championships Part 2 of 3)



Caroline and I stood overlooking the canal behind the Marriott, assessing the placement of the bright orange buoys in the distance.  “I think they’re in a different spot than yesterday,” she said, sounding concerned.  One of the International Triathlon Union Officials was within earshot.  “We’re in the process of moving them back now with our Sea-Doos.  They were moved for this morning’s Pro Race.” Caroline sighed, “Phew!  I was worried!”  Dozens of disabled athletes, assistants known as ‘handlers’ for the prosthetics and wheelchair athletes, and coaches milled about on the hotel’s patio overlooking our swim start for the Pan American Triathlon Championship.  Athletes chatted nervously about the heat, the layout of the bike course and its rather complicated tight turns, and the water and aid stations for our run. 


The minutes ticked by, as the sun got higher and higher in the Texas sky.  I was scheduled to start at exactly 10:04:16, due to a new ruling by the ITU that required athletes with partial sight like myself, categorized as B2 or B3 athletes, to give the B1 or totally blind athletes a 4 minute and 15 second head start.  Patricia Walsh, the current reigning national champion athlete was a B1 athlete, so catching her with that kind of deficit to start would require a miracle, AND the perfect race from me and my guide for all three phases of the triathlon, Caroline Gaynor. 

Our start was now delayed by several minutes due to the long lines we had to navigate to check in our gear to the transition areas where we would keep our bike and run equipment for the latter portions of the race.  Each piece of equipment and uniform had to be measured and photographed extensively by the ITU officials as part of the rules, to be sure each athlete and guide was compliant to the complicated set of new rules made for the upcoming Paralympics in Rio, and Paratriathlon’s debut at this event.  It was a bit disorganized and athletes waited, growing impatient by the second, to drop off their things and get ready to hop in the muddy canal waters. 

We were allowed a quick practice swim, where Caroline and I debuted our new swim tether, borrowed from World Champion Blind triathlete Aaron Scheidies, who was such a great friend and ambassador to the sport of triathlon.  The tether was far superior to the one I had been using, as it fit perfectly around our hips, where it connected me to Caroline by a one meter length of elastic cord, that was nicely out of the way of our arms while completing a full swim stroke.  Caroline swims on my right hand side during the race, calling out verbal commands to navigate me, or allowing the tether to keep me in a straight line and on course.  Mine had been in the way, fitting too snugly and higher up at my waist.  It was a total game changer. 


We opted to wear our wetsuits, given the 80 degree temperature of both the air and the water.  Although we ran the risk of overheating from the thick neoprene at these elevated temperatures, it would give me a huge advantage over athletes that chose to go without, lending buoyancy and speed.  After the announcer read our names aloud, “And representing the United States, Amy Dixon!” Despite the hot Texas air and my furnace-like wetsuit, my body was immediately covered in goose-bumps.  I did everything I could not to get choked up.  I had read an article recently about the science related to becoming emotional either prior or during a race.  It would only sap my much-needed energy and mental focus.  I needed all the help I could get.  We lowered ourselves into the canal, gave each other a last minute, “I love you” and adjusted our goggles to do battle. “BEEP!”


I focused on long, smooth, elegant strokes in the water, imagining my hands like a platypus, grabbing as much water with each pull of my arms and shoulders as my body could leverage.  I focused on keeping my chin down, staring into the muddy, red-brown darkness below, and looked to my right with each breath for Caroline’s white swim cap beside me.  My body rotated like a pendulum, twisting effortlessly through the water, driving constantly forward with my hips to the first buoy, where we would turn sharply right and head for the swim dock at the finish line.  At one point, I noticed another team to our right over Caroline’s shoulder, and my confidence soared.  I knew that while I wasn’t swimming my fastest in order to save some gas for the tough bike course, I was definitely gaining on the leaders who had their 4 minute head start. 

Suddenly, the carpeted stairs leading out of the water appeared in my pinhole of remaining vision through the darkness.  Someone grabbed my arm to keep me from slipping, and I heard Caroline shout with excitement, “We almost caught Patricia!  Amy, you’ve GOT this! Nice swim!”  I smiled as we started jogging in bare feet on our tip-toes to the transition area some 100 meters away in the dark parking garage.  I could hear Kate, Shelly, and Addie shouting my name over the barricades.  “Go Amy!”


The garage was black.  Pitch black.   I easily stepped out of my wetsuit, grabbing my helmet, sunglasses, race belt and inhaler, then put on my bike shoes.  I fumbled extensively with the complicated clasp on the shoes, and cursed to myself that I had purchased such difficult shoes to fasten for a person with limited vision.  At least they were white, so I stood a fighting chance of finding them in the dark.  Caroline grabbed the bike from the rack, and we trotted on slippery bike shoes out of the garage, into the blaring Dallas sunlight.  People screamed our names, and “Go USA!” as we clipped into our pedals and took off up the first incline. 


Shortly into the first kilometer, I found myself panting from adrenaline and exertion.  19 Kilometers more to go, and it would be tough.  After about 5 minutes, the resistance of the pedals increased dramatically and I tapped Caroline’s back, positioned in the pilot position of my tandem bike in front of me, and asked her why we were slowing down.  “Hill!” she shouted against the air rushing beside us.  “This is NOT a flat course.  It’s a false-flat. Dig in Amy.  We’ve gotta work!”  Caroline then started explaining to me where we were on the course in relation to our competition.  “Patricia is about half a mile in front of us, and we’ve already passed the Brazilians.  The Canadians are back there too.  Keep on the gas, girl.  We’ve GOT this.”  I smiled, and patted her on the butt like a good horse.  “Awesome Caroline.  Just Awesome.  Let’s go!”

As our one-piece suits dried from the heat and breeze, the sun began its torture on our backs and faces.  I adjusted my helmet to allow for better airflow and quickly reached for my electrolyte-infused water.  As we completed our first 10K loop, the crowd increased in size near the start/ finish line, and the noise was deafening.  “GO Caroline!  Go Amy!” we heard at least a dozen times.  We nearly missed the sharp U-turn thanks to an official, supposedly directing the athletes in the race, who wasn’t paying attention as we approached at great speed.  Caroline is an expert cyclist, and handled the bike beautifully, braking with great force, and hitting the gas hard as we hit the apex of the turn.  The bike leaned sharply, then righted itself.  “Rock star!” I shouted at her as we sped off for our second loop. 


My legs began to scream at me.  Lactic acid was building with each rotation of my bike’s crank shaft.  We were riding in a big, heavy gear, trying to maximize our speed with each stroke, which was the exact pace Caroline and I had discussed in our strategy meeting on Friday.  I settled in to suffer.  As I tried to forget my pain, the silly children’s song, “I’ve been workin’ on the rail-road, all the live-long day,” came into my head. “ Why?” I wondered, staring at the shadow of our feet, running along the pavement below us in a rhythmical, metronome-like pattern.   


I opened up my race belt and pulled out an energy gel, much like a gummy bear, and chewed it while trying to get air into my taxed lungs.  “Don’t choke” I said to myself.  Within seconds, the gel came up.  I reached down for my water bottle in a desperate attempt to wash it back down, but my body said no.  It was in the ‘eject mode’, not ingest mode.  I shook my head, smiled at my misfortune, and pedaled harder.  For the final mile, my head was tucked tightly by Caroline’s tailbone, trying to remain as aerodynamic as possible.  As the noise grew near the finish, I started going over our plan in my head.  “Don’t forget to leave your helmet on until the bike is racked,” I said aloud, although I knew Caroline had already memorized this important rule. If we unclipped the chinstrap before the bike was put away, we would be immediately disqualified. 


We jogged alongside the bike after dismounting, racking it again in the dark garage.  Caroline handed me my sneakers and visor, and we quickly swapped our bike shoes off, tethered our wrists together by a spare shoelace, and headed out on the run.  I was smiling from ear to ear.  I knew we were in second place, and it was the most exciting feeling of any race I had ever run.  My enthusiasm and excitement came back to bite me quickly.  I looked down at my watch, noticing that I was running an 8 minute, 30 second per mile pace.  While this would be a great last mile pace for the race, leaving on the start of a hot 5K road race in Texas at that pace wasn’t smart.  I felt good, so I decided to just go with it, and hope that I would maintain this pace or get even faster on my second lap.

By the first aid station at the 1K mark, I was hyperventilating.  We decided to walk a few steps, grab a cup of water, then go back to an easier pace until the 4K mark, and hit the gas again.  Then came the first hill.  “My feet are so…..HEAVY” I whined, gasping for air. 


If you want to help Amy and her Guides compete at World Championships and National Championships this season, please click here for a TAX DEDUCTIBLE Donation through the USA Blind athlete’s Association.  THANK YOU!

My First International Triathlon (Recap Part 1 of 2 of Pan Am Championship)



As I entered the doorway to drop off my heavy luggage, the leash suddenly became taut.  Elvis, my Guide Dog, had firmly planted his feet in the vestibule, and was attempting to back out of the hallway as quickly as possible.  “Shit!” I yelled to Shelly, as I dropped one of my bags on her condo floor.  “What is he DOING?” Shelly asked.  “being a turd, that’s what.  I guess the issue with the shiny floors has reared its ugly head again.  Dammit.  Not today, Elvis.  Not today, “ I impatiently begged. 

My poor guide dog had wiped out on the hospital floor last fall while in the waiting room, as he was being watched by my mother during  yet another surgery for my eye disease.  Afterwards, he had refused to walk on shiny linoleum floors, and the trainer had come out to work with us to get him over his fear.  Apparently it was back.  Well, honestly I couldn’t really blame the poor guy.  We had just had a long flight from New York to Dallas, where I was nervously preparing for my first international  race as a blind triathlete.  His stress was a direct reflection of my mood, so I gave him a well- deserved break and took his working guide harness off to go play with Shelly’s Pugs.


Shelly is my best friend who I lived with more than 15 years ago who then relocated after having a family, back to her hometown in Dallas, Texas.  The International Triathlon Union (ITU) Pan American Triathlon Championships was being held just minutes from her house, and I was there to compete with the USA Paratriathlon Team.  My morning had started off rather rough.  My borrowed, $8,000 custom tandem bicycle had arrived via the shipper, terribly damaged.  I received the email shortly before boarding my flight, and was frantically calling every carbon fiber bike parts dealer in the country, desperate to repair the bike in time for the biggest race of my life.  I was literally a basket case.  The local shop that had received the shipment of my bike  was miraculously able to locate the part and have it overnighted.  I could breathe.  At least for now….

Thursday I hung out at the bike shop, watching the nice mechanics do their important work on “Palomino”, my aptly named blonde Co-Motion Cycles tandem bike.  My tandem partner, Lindsey Cook and I had come up with the name after we made the realization that we were two blondes, with a blonde guide dog, and a blonde bike.  My bike needed a fast sounding name, and we combined our love of horses and speed for the perfect name, Palomino.  I was blessed that the founder of C Different, a non- profit focused on blind athletes, lived right around the corner from the shop, and we took her out for a test ride around a gorgeous lake.  She rode beautifully, and I slept well, eager for Caroline Gaynor, my triathlon guide, and Triathlon Director for the veteran’s charity, Team RWB to arrive the next day. 


One of the cool things about this trip was being shadowed for the week by an award-winning photographer who had taken photos of me earlier this year for the Wall Street Journal article that was published about my triathlon and wine careers.  Kate Lord is a sweet young, vibrant blonde, who is freckled and upbeat at every turn.  I was delighted to have her shooting me for my big race.  When Caroline arrived at Shelly’s, we hugged like long- lost college roommates, and got down to business right away with the bike.  We did a 20 mile loop in some nasty heat, and got the bike as adjusted as possible for the best speed and comfort for the both of us.  After a quick, ‘loosen up the legs’ jog on a hot High School track, we settled in to discuss the intricate ITU rules and our race plan for Sunday.  It was starting to get real and my nerves oddly settled.


Saturday morning I woke up a little stiff, and stood to stretch.  “SHIT!  OW!” I screamed as my back seized up in a knife-like pain, causing me to catch my breathe.  “What is it?  What happened?” Caroline was up, immediately concerned.  “My damn back!  I should NEVER have gone kayaking last week!  I’m an IDIOT!  Who does something like that 6 days prior to a big race?  Dammit!”  I slowly lowered myself into a painful catcher’s squat, with my head tucked between my legs. I let out a deep exhale and slowly stood, hobbling into the shower to attempt to loosen it with hot water.  This was not the start to my day prior to the triathlon that I had planned. 

The Marriott in Las Colinas was packed to the gills with fit, gorgeous athletes from all over the United States and South America.   There were the able-bodied pros, who were finishing the race today, the junior elites, and us disabled, or ‘para-triathletes’ all milling about.  The Pan Am ITU Championships was one of the first races in the United States to count towards points for the Olympics.  All of the athletes competing at this race had been hand selected by the USA Triathlon organization or by their host country’s governing sports body.  There were animated Brazilian athletes, singing and dancing around the patio overlooking our swim course in the canal.  The Argentine folks were more quiet and serious.  The Canadians were on the floor, surround in red and white top-of-the –line triathlon gear, stretching and chatting about their race.  And the few Mexican athletes were glued to the lobby’s flat screen TV, watching a soccer match.  Hundreds of thousands of dollars -worth of bikes lined the walls of the Marriott lobby.  I drooled with bike envy.   The energy and excitement was palpable.

Caroline and I ran into several other disabled athletes there from team USA in the lobby.  We were awaiting instructions from our team managers and the head of USA Paratriathlon regarding our swim practice in the canal.  It was intimidating and awesome to meet all of the athletes I had known through Facebook, several of whom had been to the Olympics in other sports, such as swimming or cycling.  Rio in 2016 would be the debut of Paratriathlon at the Paralympics, and every single athlete, from the amputees, paraplegics, and us blind athletes wanted one of the coveted spots on the team headed to Rio.  Tomorrow would begin our journey. 

While none of us was thrilled about jumping into a muddy, giant canal of 80 degree water, it was still cooler than the 88 degree air temperatures that threatened to bake us to the flagstone patio that lined its sides.  The wheelchair athletes wheeled down to the water’s edge, and their designated ‘handlers’ would help get them both out of and into their chairs before and after the swim began.  For the amputees, their handlers would take their prosthetic arms or legs from the start of the swim to the swim finish line, exactly 750 meters away.  For us blind and visually impaired athletes, we would be tethered by an elastic 1 meter cord tied around our waists to our chosen guides, who would swim alongside us, calling out verbal instructions, and helping to choose a safe path if we got into a lot of traffic or needed to pass slower swimmers. 

Caroline explained the layout of the course in the water.  It was a giant triangle, with two orange buoys far off in the hazy distance.  We decided to forgo the allowed wetsuits for our practice due to the extreme heat, but chose to wait and see how hot we felt after completing the swim and to see what our competition was doing in the morning.  Wetsuits are a HUGE advantage over a regular bathing suit.  It provides both buoyancy and speed; to the tune of gaining 5 seconds per 25 meters of distance, which in a long race, really adds up.   However, you run the risk of raising your heart-rate and overheating if the water temperature is above 82, the legal cutoff for allowing wetsuits in the race.   Our swim was relaxed and smooth, and I focused on staying long and smooth in the water, as my coach had taught me so well.  Caroline safely guided me past some slower swimmers, and we ended up at the finishing dock, where carpeted stairs would then lead us to our bikes and the transition area in the hotel parking garage.  We walked the area on foot, mapping out the route in our heads, so that the morning would leave us with no surprises.  I felt ready. 

My friend Tom Lee, an Army veteran who is also an amputee triathlete, his handler, Jared, and Caroline and I prepared for our pre-race briefing in a mandatory meeting to be held at the hotel.  After the swim, we were starving, so we did what an good athlete will do, we ATE!  I watched Tom inhale a giant steak, and Caroline worked on a burger like a champ.  Knowing all too well the extent of my gastro-intestinal issues, I opted for Salmon and sweet potato fries.  Somewhat safe.  For nearly two hours, more than one hundred athletes, handlers, coaches, and guides hung out in the hotel conference area’s hallway.  Athletes were Facebooking, Tweeting, and sharing photos from the practice today, and lined up to take endless selfies to take up the downtime.  Our meeting was supposed to begin at 6.  It was now 7:15, and we were getting anxious.  I had booked a massage for 8pm, with the hopes that it would fix my back before the race.  It was becoming clear I needed to cancel.


After nearly 90 minutes of a vague PowerPoint presentation, each of the more than 90 athletes had more questions than answers in regards to the race and the very specific new rules.  There were dozens of them, and it was like learning an entire language in one sitting.  Near impossible.  Each of us was more confused than when we entered, and the four of us agreed that we would hop in Jared’s car and go drive the bike course so that we could be clear on where the turns were and how the elevation would change.  We waited on line, and received our coveted race numbers, race tattoos to mark our bodies, and bike stickers before bolting down to the car, rushing to beat the dwindling sunset.  We were about to see what tomorrow would bring for each of us in the Texas heat and hills.  

If you want to help Amy Dixon Compete towards Rio in 2016, you can make a tax deductible donation here:


Feeling Inspired and what that means to me




PINCH ME.  Seriously.  I simply cannot be REALLY living this life I’m living.  I’ve never experienced such a roller coaster of emotions as I have these past 8 months, particularly the past 4 weeks.  

I just left a wonderful, uplifting movie about the great, (though difficult) man Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Computer.  One of the things I’ve discovered has enabled me to endure the difficulties of my life is the mantra that Steve Jobs lived by.  Do not live IN the world; Go out and create your OWN life.  When catastrophe strikes, be it devastating illness, the loss of a limb, the loss of a loved one, then ending of a career, it is those people who go out and create their own lives, NEW lives that flourish and dare to be different.  I happen to believe that I’m one of these people.  Whenever I hit an obstacle, I’m always able to find my way around it, and to make that obstacle disappear in the future.  I can always find my way, both literally and figuratively.

I know where I get it from, my awesome mother, who saw herself out of a terrible, dangerous abusive marriage some 30 years ago.  She ‘found a way’ to raise two girls and keep a sense of normalcy while keeping a roof over our heads as a housekeeper for Vera Wang.  We had horses, 4-H Club, Girl Scouts, Swimming, tennis, soccer, and music.  She did that.  She found a way by putting herself through wallpapering school then starting her own business so she could make her own hours and be there for us each and every day.  She refused help in the many forms it was offered.  Yet she found a way.  

I’ve felt like I’ve owed it to her to do the same.  When I got diagnosed in college with a rare eye disease, I hit the books and did the research on doctors and treatment (before the invention of Google).  I had no health insurance, and needed tens of thousands of dollars worth of testing.  I got a credit card and worked three jobs to pay it off.  I too, had found a way.  I knew no matter how bad things would get, I would make a life for myself.  Sadly, no longer as a budding future pharmacist, but I did have an awesome palate and wealth of wine knowledge, and a passion for horses.  So what did I do?  I figured it out by making a name for myself as a promising young woman in the wine business.  I networked, I wrote, I tasted thousands and thousands of wine, all to better equip myself for an uncertain future with my eyesight.  

When my father passed away, leaving me a costly horse to upkeep, I began training and teaching students, then showing and shipping horses to keep hay in the manger and shoes on his feet.  I bought a truck and trailer, and trained with some of the best instructors in the world.  I bartered, I scraped, and did ANY job that came my way, from mucking stalls to braiding manes for the show circuit.  I got it done, because I was busy creating my world. 

Fast forward nearly 15 years, and my life has changed dramatically.  I’ve continued to slowly lose my sight from a rare form of Uveitis, and now, glaucoma.  I’ve created a world in which I can not only live, but THRIVE in, due to the blessings of Guiding Eyes for the Blind in the form of my Guide Dog, Elvis.  My life is not only different from what I had envisioned for myself, it is better.

When my disease came out of remission five years ago, I was terribly depressed and afraid.  I had never actually spoken to a blind or visually impaired person, and I felt so scared and alone, uncertain of what my life would look like.  I was in debt, unhappy in my job, and about to go through a series of chemotherapy and surgeries that would transform the way I lived my daily life.  I gained nearly 50 pounds, developed debilitating migraines, and had terrible side effects from the high dose steroids I was on.  

The expression, “When God closes a door, he opens a window”, really holds true here.  Thanks to my friend Alan Gunzburg, I found a way to get help through social services, teaching me how to live in the world as a visually impaired person.  Through my friend Scotty, I found a way to have my own voice at work and advocate for myself. She introduced me to a whole new world of people like me through the power of social media, allowing me to feel part of a community of people again.  Through my wonderful customers in the wine industry, I was offered an opportunity to become my own boss and to create my dream job of being a business owner and wine educator.  I had found a way.

Now, as I face another tough chapter in my vision loss, I find it overwhelming to look back at how my life has changed for the better, and the world I’ve created for myself through great friendships and wonderful cheerleaders along the way.  Eight short months ago, I was in total physical disrepair, reliant on painful cortisone and numbing injections to even handle walking to the bus stop or up a flight of stairs at the train station.  I had ballooned to a size 14 from my size 4, and avoided mirrors and social settings and hated any photos I saw of myself.  

When the chemo stopped working to control my eye inflammation, I found a doctor who specialized in autoimmune related eye disease, and had invented a special implant that controls the disease without the systemic side effects.  Yet again, I had found a way to keep seeing, despite what the statistics said about my eye-sight-robbing diagnosis.  I bought myself more time.  Time to check off things on my “Vision-loss Bucket List”, or as my stepfather prefers to call it, my “Things to do before I can’t see anymore” list.  I bought myself three good years where I got to travel to California, Italy, and all over the United States meeting amazing new friends and supporters along the way.  

Last year, after my 9th eye surgery, I had an anaphylactic reaction to a drug, causing my adrenal and thyroid glands to stop working.  My weight ballooned yet again, and I became frustrated living on egg whites and Greek Yogurt.  A fortunate turn of events brought to light my adrenal issue, and I got on the waiting list to see one of the top Endocrinologists in the country.  I called and called until they had a cancellation, determined to FIX my broken glands and get back on track to good health.  

As luck would have it, I fell and broke my foot on the day my surgeon finally agreed to let me get back to exercise.  My friend Carol helped me ‘find the way’ around the broken foot and back into the pool, a place I loved as a kid and high school swimmer, that would allow me the benefits of exercise without hurting my foot.  Pretty soon I became hooked on it, and started taking spin classes with my friend Wendy, my fiercest supporter.  

By chance, I met the woman who opened the biggest door for me this year, Caroline Gaynor, the triathlon director for a veteran’s Charity known as Team Red White and Blue .  Caroline specializes in guiding visually impaired athletes in all types of running races and triathlons, from sprint distances to Ironman.  I had no idea that blind folks could even attempt something like that, let alone complete it.  

Suddenly the world of encroaching darkness and my urgency to ‘see it all before I can’t’ faded and I was able to live in the present again.  I always like to say, “Expect the worst and hope for the best,” and I truly meant it.  While I can prepare and not avoid the fact that I’m going blind, I can do what I can to prepare for it, and then get on with my life.  

Through the sport of Paratriathlon, I’ve now met more than a dozen blind athletes, and chatted with several dozen online.  Who KNEW that this community even existed?  I used to look at my impending blindness as a sort of death; the death of my ability to see, but I realized that there is light after darkness.  There is a whole world out there I didn’t know existed, and these folks are welcoming me there with open arms.  Through the power of social media and incredible organizations such as Achilles, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Team RWB, I had found my way.  
In 8 short months, I’ve completed 5 triathlons, gotten sponsored by a triathlon club to race, recruited to a top sports agency, and trained with the top coaches in the country as a triathlete, with an eye on the 2016 Paralympics. Seriously, is this my life? I’ve received scholarships to attend camps, and run alongside Ironmen and women at the top of the sport. I’ve lost nearly 40lbs, and fit into those skinny size 6 jeans again. I can’t BELIEVE the life I’ve created and the folks that have helped me achieve this success in such a short time.

While I’m still very afraid for the encroaching darkness that will ensue, I find comfort in seeing my peers succeed and thrive as blind athletes, engineers, software programmers, lawyers, writers, comedians, massage therapists, and so much more.  I won’t just have a life after blindness.  I am going to have a great life as a triathlete, business owner, advocate for the blind, and sommelier.    My ‘Bucket List’ is no longer the giant laundry list it once was, and I now realize I can still do ALL of those things after I lose my vision.  Thank you mom, for teaching me, that yes, We ALL can “Find our Way”.


Challenged Athletes Inspiring me at Camp



It’s official.  I’m a 37 year old Camper.  I spent the last 4 days in a whirlwind of lectures, gait analysis, stroke analysis, swim training and all out racing in the presence of some of the greatest triathlon coaches in the world.  But what I will take away with me forever is the inspiration and sheer joy of seeing other disabled athletes break through barriers they had mentally set for themselves and come out on the other side successful and triumphant.  

Each individual had their story of a terrible injury- drunk drivers, distracted drivers, boating accidents, brain tumors, chemo patients, sniper fire and things too horrific to think about.  We each told our stories to each other as a form of introduction and then it was immediately forgotten.  The person before us wasn’t injured in each other’s eyes.  We were athletes.  We were there to learn, and train, get better, and compete with the best of the best in our sport.  Though some of us were missing limbs, and missing eyesight, for four days we were whole.

The Challenged Athletes Foundation based in San Diego generously hosted me and 17 other disabled triathletes for four days of intense instruction and drills.  It was recently announced that Para Triathlon will be an official sport at the 2016 Rio Paralympics, and many of my friends in the disabled community have their sites set on Olympic Gold.  This was the opportunity of a lifetime for each and every one of us to learn from Elite Masters’ Swim Coach and Ironman John Murray, Kona Ironman Champions and finishers Carlos Moleda, Peter Harsch, and Mark Sortino.  Mark also is coaching the current US National Team.  

The first full day involved swim analysis with John, where I was video-taped and discovered that my ‘blade-angle’ was changing in my hands during my stroke.  On the Run analysis with Peter, who is a certified Prosthetist, he had me increase my cadence from 85-96 steps per minute on the treadmill, which was extremely difficult and awkward to maintain.  However, he took the time to really explain to me how it would save my legs from injury and eventually make me a faster more efficient runner.  Lastly, I had a bike fitting on a borrowed tandem by Mark, who pointed out that my left leg is much shorter than my right, which is inhibiting my pedal stroke.  He quickly suggested I get a shim inserted in the cleat of my cycling shoes to fix the imbalance to prevent further issues.  

We had a great dinner, and I got to hang out with one triathlete who is a personal trainer in the DC area who seemed to take his injury literally in stride and hit the ground running to get back to his beloved sport.  I looked forward to spending time with my assigned mentor, Ironman finisher and current world Champion Blind Triathlete, Patricia Walsh, an engineer from Texas, who was flying in to finish her training for this year’s world Championships in London, and to show me the ropes.  

Saturday was a 30 mile bike ride assigned for the morning session, followed by a track session in the afternoon.  I prayed that my legs would hold out for the beating that was about to ensue.  San Diego is famous for their blind tandem bike riding club known as the Blind Stoker’s club, and they generously found me a pilot to train with and his beautiful custom tandem to ride on.  I didn’t find out until 36 hours later that Mike Jennings, my pilot for the weekend was a world Champion Master’s Cyclist, and that I was literally in some of the finest hands one could ask for as a blind cyclist.

Our ride took us up the canyon in Torrey Pines, near the famed Golf Course, and into the mountains.  Some people rode single bikes with their prosthetic legs, some of us were on tandems, and others rode the giant hills using their hand-cycles, while laying near flat on their back as traffic whizzed by.  Mike and I flew on his tandem, and the climbing was effortless due to his shifting wizardry and deft handling of even the tightest turns.  On the return trip back to the Challenged Athlete’s Foundation building, we swerved suddenly, and Mike brought the bike to a smooth, steady, fast halt.  He hopped off the front and went back about 15 feet to where a Diamondback Rattlesnake lay sunning itself in the middle of the bike path.  A crowd began to gather as he bravely found a long tree branch and escorted the very angry three-foot fat snake up the hill to where it could no longer strike at a passing cyclist.  I nearly fainted.

After our riding adventure, it was off to a local high school track to learn how to really run more efficiently.  Peter and Mark took us through cadence and stepping and running drills and stretches, then tested our sense of pacing on the track.  They had us do five sets of 200 meters; the first at a warmup pace, one at marathon pace, one at half marathon pace, one at 10K pace, and the last at our 5K race pace.  I bombed out on my bad math skills by the second set, having gone out way too fast in my warmup pace.  I learned a valuable lesson that running is a lot of math, and I’d better learn quick if I ever want to compete over longer distance at an even pace, or faster at shorter distances.  It was humbling and completely educational in every way.  The good news was that I was starting to feel more comfortable with the quicker cadence that Peter had me shooting for.  

We had a more formal dinner that evening, and it was nice to see the group outside of exercise gear, and hear more training and racing stories from one another.  Elvis had a blast hanging out with another athlete’s service dog, a gorgeous Husky owned by an elite track star named Kionte.  We sat through seminars about racing, nutrition, and the rules and hierarchy of para triathlon sports, and I took fastidious notes.  I grabbed a quick hot tub to soothe my muscles from the bike ride, and hit the sack early to prepare for my first West Coast open water swim and our triple Duathlon on the final day.  

The early morning meeting at La Jolla Beach left me with butterflies in my stomach. While I’m really comfortable in my cozy little Long Island Sound, I kept imagining sharks and stingrays nipping at my dangling legs in the water. Mike, my tandem captain, met us there also, as he was a fairly experienced surfer, and wanted to get some swim practice in as well. As Mark was making the announcements of the morning, I turned around to see one of my favorite people in the triathlon business, Mr. Ray Kelly. Ray was the race organizer of the VERY FIRST triathlon I did as a blind athlete back in June with my guide Caroline. The race had never accomomdated a para-triathlete before, and he moved mountains to make the day fun, safe, and accessible for me. He even gave me my own award at the beginning of the ceremony. It was a day I will truly never forget thanks to him. He had recently moved from Stamford CT to San Diego, and I had secretly hoped our paths would cross again. At 7am oceanside in San Diego, here we were, about to hop into the water together. I was thrilled!

I had a great lesson with Ray, who showed me how to Dolphin dive out into the waves to increase my speed during a beach entry. He was patient while I had a few panics while getting caught in the kelp that drifted around the ocean and looked an awful lot like a giant jellyfish with long tentacles. Once I got the hang of pushing it under my body, we got into a great rhythm in the tall waves. We met a group of other athletes way out in the La Jolla Cove, and swam back and forth along some buoys that kept out the boaters and sharks.

On our way back to the shore, I spotted a giant seal, at least 300lbs swimming about 20 feet behind us. It was absolutely beautiful and so effortless, and his face looked just like a dogs. I hugged Ray and thank him for such a great experience, and we packed up and headed to the CAF Center for our Triple Duathlon.

It would be three laps of cycling 1/3 mile, followed by one lap running, and repeated 3 times at our all-out race effort pace. I was concerned about managing my asthma, but had gotten some great tips on using my inhaler more effectively by another camper, Dr. Bryon, himself an anesthesiologist. My goal was to finish as close to Patricia as possible, ideally with her within sight’s distance. This would be a real tough challenge, but a great test of the training I had done so far. To even be in the same room with Patricia was awe-inspiring, and her cool, calm, focus and great advice was so wonderful to have at my disposal.

Mike and I had a powerful first lap, gaining a 1 minute lead on Patricia and her guide. Going from a complete stop to sprinting took its toll on my sensitive lungs, and I found myself practicing deep, forced exhales to clear the Carbon Dioxide from my lungs as they began to burn. Mike smartly slowed as we came into the transition area so I could regain my breathing and get out fast on the run. My transition was perfect- helmet off, shoes off, running shoes on, tether on, and visor and I hooked onto running guide John’s capable arm and away we went. I was on cloud nine! I knew, however that the great lead I had built on the bike and transition would be a fleeting moment as Patricia is a fast, skilled runner, often running 6:30 minute miles to my pokey 9:30 pace.

I reminded myself that I had two more rotations of this sprint, and not to put it all out on my first run lap, or I would completely run out of gas. I sighed as she and her guide passed me smoothly late on the run lap in frustration, but smiled also to know that I was still within the sightline of her and could perhaps catch her again on the next bike lap.

The transition went so smoothly that I actually got out before Patricia and her guide and Mike was ready to rock the bike again. He helped me do some deep breathing to get the wheezing under control, and we gained back more than a minute lead again. I was having the time of my life. I knew that the run would yield the same result, but became more confident in my biking skills that at least I could keep myself in the mix as a contender. I had my fastest transition from bike to run on the last lap, and my fastest run lap thanks to John carefully monitoring my breathing and pace into the finish line. We were bested by only 30 seconds; a major accomplishment!

After our duathlon, Mike took me for a tour of San Diego, including a drive along the coast, coffee overlooking the swimming seals, watching the paragliders take off from the cliffs, and delicious Mexican food with his sweetheart Andrea, overlooking the sunset. It was a magical end to an amazing weekend. I feel so blessed to have been in the presence of and to learn from these great coaches, mentors, and other athletes who all want to see us get to the finish line and achieve our goals. I cannot thank the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the coaches, my guides and the volunteers enough. Elvis and I hope to make you all proud this year at the National Championships and to take each and every piece of information and advice and put it to good use. And to all the challenged athletes that I trained and raced with this weekend, THANK YOU for sharing your stories and allowing us to be a part of your journey.




I am a Para-Triathlete Officially!


I have no idea how to put into the words the flood of feelings that I’m experiencing right now.  I’m at the 8 hour mark after finishing my very first triathlon as a Visually Impaired Athlete, and I’m just buzzing- with adrenaline, exhaustion, joy, incredulity, gratitude, and a sense of awe.  NEVER five years ago, when my diagnosis was made horrifically clear would I have imagined this day.  Never would I have imagined that my impending blindness would actually open me to a whole new culture, lifestyle and group of amazing friends from such a diverse and wonderful group of people. 

My most recent of 11 eye surgeries was back in August of last year, only ten short months ago.  The chronic pain, multiple follow up appointments, and stress took a major toll on my body, leaving me with Addison’s Disease, (a malfunctioning of the adrenal system, and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, where my metabolism simply shut down.  A 45 pound weight gain in only three short months left me depressed, and feeling hopeless that my life would return to normal.  Because of the weight gain, and a broken foot, my exercise was strictly limited.  I couldn’t bike or run with the ankle, and I couldn’t swim because I couldn’t run the risk of infection or injury to my eye.  I felt trapped in a body I didn’t ask for.

An ‘Aqua Fit’ class at the local YMCA was the beginning of a life-changing event for me.  I could ‘jog’ in the deep part of the pool without getting my eyes wet or needing goggles, and I could wear a belt that kept the impact from my legs!  Perfect!  After dropping the first 8 pounds in the pool, and getting stronger on my foot, I snuck upstairs at the Y to the spin class room.  There I started slowly cycling 20 minutes a couple times a week while the classes were not in session, so I could embarass myself in private.

As my spin sessions grew longer, and my fitness began to slowly come back, I was brave enough to try a full hour spin.  I felt like I might expire then and there, but I was doing it.  I happened in on a Saturday morning class, and was absolutely stoked that my favorite instructor from New York Sports Club had joined the team at the Y, and couldn’t wait to start sweating to her great energy and fantastic music. 

Quickly the weight began to come off, and I crossed the 10 pound threshold.  I was going to do this if it killed me.  Through the power of Facebook, I met a woman who works for a veteran’s advocacy group called Team RWB who specializes in guiding visually impaired and blind athletes all around the country.  I wanted to start running with someone, but was afraid that no one would know how to help me as well as Elvis, my guide dog could.  Caroline was from New York City, and suggested we meet up at a local veteran’s fundraiser for a spin-a-thon, where she could introduce me to some local RWB athletes that might want to help.

I met a passionate woman named Laurie Hollander, the co-founder of Help Our Military Heros Charity, who has two sons in the military.  The event was so incredibly inspiring, as I got to meet combat wounded veterans who were being given their freedom back thanks to the power of exercise with adaptive technology, and the handicap adapted vans that this charity helped buy for them.  I was hooked.  I had to meet more guys like this and help however I could.  They were amazing!

I started spinning like a mad-woman and tried my first attempt at laps in the Y pool with special goggles to protect my precious new glaucoma valve that had just been surgically implanted.  I re-developed an old fear of deep water that I had had as a child, and worked hard at only swimming on days that the pool was set up with shallow lanes to keep me from freaking out.  It worked, and I was suddenly swimming- first ten, then 20, then 40, then 66 laps/ 1 mile!  I told Caroline I was ready to put my money where my mouth is and sign up for a triathlon this spring.


Caroline and her boyfriend Jared came up on Saturday, the day before the race to help me go over any last minute issues and get the bike ready to go.  We grabbed a bite to eat with my mom and headed home for an early bed after we loaded my tandem bike onto the custom roof mounted bike rack on mom’s car.  So we thought…..

The bike was a generous gift to me by a former US Paratriathlon Director.  This tandem cycle has been to two Paralympics and is more than 30 years old.  It is an amazing piece of equipment of which the guys at the bike shop are in awe.  As we sat down to take the front wheel off the bike, it became painfully clear at 9pm in my dark condo parking lot that this wheel had not been off the bike for a very long time.  It was also not planning on coming off any time soon.  Lacking the proper tools, we began calling and texting to anyone I knew locally who knew bikes or may have the proper tools.  A trip to Home Depot was discussed, but at this point they were about to close.  Dammit.

After an emergency call to my good friend Alan, we drove to his house at 10:15 5o retrieve needle-nose pliers.  On the way there, we were frantically texting other Team RWB folks and my coach to see if someone had an SUV that could come get the bike at 5:30am if we couldn’t make it fit onto the bike rack. My head was pounding, my chest started to hurt, and I was ready to lose it.   Laurie Hollander came through like a champ, and was already coming to cheer me on at the race, and offered to pick up the bike en route to the race.  Perfect!

The next morning, Laurie showed up bright and early and off we caravaned to the race in Westchester on the Hudson River.  I was nervous about the swim, but had practiced with my coach a few days prior, and felt that other than the gross brown water, I would be ok, as long as I could spot Caroline occasionally beside me and knew that the tether would keep me safe.  The drama with the bike had actually settled my nerves, as I had hopes that this was the end of my bad luck for the race, and it would be smooth sailing from here on.

We arrived early and my stomach was in knots.  The parking lot was a mile from the nearest porta potty, and Caroline and I hustled along while our ‘crew’ grabbed the bike and our gear and followed behind.  I met the race organizer, an Aussie gentleman, who I had been emailing regarding my needs for the race.  He had been so helpful in making sure that I was starting in my own wave, safely away from other athletes who might unknowingly interfere with our race by getting tangled in my tether in the swim, or getting frustrated trying to pass us on the run as Caroline and I ran side by side.  There were already hundreds of athletes there, and it was electrifying with loads of adrenaline and nerves!

The Bike mechanics were our first stop, who did an amazing job working with my troublesome front wheel, and adjusting our seat height and handlebars.  We headed off to transition, where I went through my checklist and hit the porta-potty for the second time.  The nerves were kicking in.  We walked over to the pre-race meeting where the organizer gave a great pep talk to all of us first timers.  I was incredibly grateful my swim coach had convinced me to buy a pair of neoprene booties, as we had a long walk from transition to the swim start over lots of ruts, tree roots and grass.

Watching the first swim wave head out, I stopped and realized how incredibly beautiful the scenery was.  A lighthouse jutted the shore, the sun was shining, and the outlines of the Catskills were off in the distance.  The water appeared much clearer than my swim 4 days prior, and I started to settle down.  I would be the final wave to go- with no one else in our wave but Caroline and myself.  It relieved my fear of being swum over, but I felt a little sad that I would have no one to ‘chase’.  I reminded myself that this was my first race, and there would be no chasing, just FINISH.  I also told myself that it would be kind of fun to catch people in the swim wave that left 2 minutes before me.  I could be fast in the water, so anything was possible.  Judging by some of the really beginner swimming I was seeing out there, I totally had this covered.

We waded into the water, which was surprisingly warm, although I was grateful for my borrowed wetsuit from my coach.  I reminded myself to get my face in as quickly as possible to check my goggles for leakage.  We were good.  Caroline and I had never actually practiced swimming together, so we got down in the water and did a few strokes parallel to the shore.  Done.  The gun went off.

I told myself, ‘head straight to the buoy. Trust her- she knows where the heck we’re going. Get a rhythm and be steady- just like a regular pool swim.  Let the suit work its magic to help me float, and conserve my energy for the bike and run where I would be needing it most.”  I could still be faster than most and go at a slow steady pace.  The current kept pushing me to my right and towards Caroline. I was grateful she had used my bright yellow Achilles swim cap so I could see her.  The race officials had given us a BROWN swim cap in brown water.  Not conducive for a blind athlete to be visible or have visibility.  I pulled hard with my left arm with each stroke to keep from getting pushed into Caroline.  She pulled up twice to adjust her goggles, which had started leaking along the route.  Within 15 minutes, we were out of the water.  I was a little shocked when i got to my feet and saw dry land.  Even more shocked when Caroline told me there would be stairs coming up out of the water.  WHAT?  A challenge to say the least.  I got to work right away unzipping my suit, as I knew that was going to be a challenge.  It was really snug. As we jogged hand in hand towards the transition area, we were routed up a long dark staircase to get to the park.  We laughed at how insane this was, and kept jogging as my stepfather and coach and mother cheered us along. 

I gulped down some water, and fortunately got some help from Caroline getting out of my wetsuit, which was stuck on my timing chip on my left leg.  Great.  We grabbed our helmet, shoes, glasses and my bike and headed out of transition, which no one seemed to know the way out of.  We yelled at a couple of folks to help and they finally pointed us out.  A little stressful, but we were clear. 

Once we clipped in, we wound our way out of the park, and into the town of Sleepy Hollow NY.  Police had closed some roads and were stopping traffic for us as we flew around the first series of pretty tight turns.  One was so tight, we saw a guy go flying into someone’s yard!  Laughing, we peddled on.  A fellow competitor had warned us that the course was 5 miles uphill , then 5 miles back down.

Not 5 minutes into our ride, we were on the first decent sized hill, and our chain suddenly came off.  Crap.  So much for that bad luck running out last night. We coordinated clipping out of our pedals, and worked on getting the chain back again.  Dammit.  It slipped again.  Caroline rides competitively, so mechanics are nothing new to her.  I felt confident she would get it working again.  After the derailment, the bike began to skip gears any time we tried to use an easier gear.  We decided to stay in the hard, tougher gears, and just figure it out as we went.  Man I was grateful at that moment for my strong pilot!

We were getting frustrated as the climb continued, and the bike just kept skipping around from gear to gear.  It made it incredibly hard to push the chain as hard as we needed to climb.  So I did what I do when I get stressed.  I laughed and I prayed.  “OH PLEASE dear lovely bike of mine, PLEASE help us!  Please let us finish this race!  I LOVE you bike!  Oh BIKE! you’re the BEST!  I promise to give you love and attention and a SPA DAY at the bike shop when we get back!  ANYTHING for you!  Just PLEASE let me finish this race!  PLEASE! I Love you bike!  you’re the BEST!”  Caroline and I began to laugh.  We were going to DO this!

Well, laughing and praying work, because the bike started skipping less, and behaving more.  I crossed my heart, and got pumped as we began to pass people.  First one, then 4 , then 6.  It was a pretty amazing feeling.  I felt invincible!  I knew the run was going to suck, so I wanted to make up as much time on the bike as I could.  Around mile 8 we began to have a series of tight turns- no easy feat on a bike that is as long as a limousine.  As we came barreling down on one street, it appeared that we continue straight.  However, two volunteers were standing in the middle of the road chatting, oblivious to our impending collision.  We began to shout at them.  “WHICH WAY?”  To which they just stared!  Again, louder we yelled.  Suddenly, right before we missed the turn, they pointed to Caroline.  We wooshed by their bodies, and narrowly missed a street sign, and cursed out loud.  “HOLY SHIT”, said Caroline.  “What the hell was that?”  She said she had never seen an incident like that in her racing career.  These people were practically asleep at the wheel.  We agreed to be vigilent and slowed down for the upcoming series of tighter turns. 

As we rolled into the bike finish, I could hear my family shouting our names.  I was beaming.  We did it, and the ornery bike agreed to let us finish.  I saw Elvis wagging close by and smiled again.  This was amazing.  I love him, but there’s nothing like having your hands totally free to just run, bike and swim to make you feel independent again.  Elvis gave me my life and my freedom back, and Caroline was making me fly.

We dashed into transition and it felt fast.  Bike shoes off, run shoes on, visor and race number on, and off we jogged to the exit.  We were laughing the whole way.  I realized very quickly how critical Caroline’s guiding skills were going to be on the run. 

The run began on a grassy area under the shade of a grove of old pine and oak trees alongside the Hudson River.  Shade and running for blind people is not helpful.  While the temperature was lovely in there, it was going to be one horrific stumble after another.  I began to doubt myself.  At the first big tree root, Caroline grabbed my arm.  We had an awesome elastic running tether to connect our wrists, but in this hairy situation I was going to need a little more help.  I lifted my knees and toes up high, and pranced through our little forest run. Phew!

We then continued to a concrete pier, which zigged and zagged its way out to an old lighthouse.  There was a tiny metal footbridge to get out there, only wide enough for people to run single file.  We were laughing our butts off at the absurdity and difficulty of this portion of the race, and I dropped behind Caroline to keep from getting clothes-lined.

Once clear of the obstacle course, it was a beautiful run along the pier by the Hudson through wildflowers and parks.  I was quickly regretting my decision not to carry water on the bike portion of the race, and my head started to pound with the 80 degree heat and dehydration. “Stupid Idiot” I thought to myself.  Well, lesson learned.  I got this.

We were desperate for water, and looking forward to the water station.  the first was barely a sip of water.  We told ourselves to tank up at the next one.  Well the next station was OUT of water! What?  OUT?  They handed us a precious cup of ice, which I promptly dumped down my sports bra to cool off.  My knee began to protest after the challenge of the slipping gears on the bike, and I wondered if I could finish.  The answer was absolutely.  It would be silly to stop now.  The knee could wait.  I focused on my form, attempting to lean forward and take short strides to keep my momentum steady.  I felt good.  The pace was comfortable, and my breathing was ok despite the dryness of my throat.

All along the route people shouted for us, saying, “Great job! or “Way to go”!  It felt amazing having these other athletes take the time out to urge me on, and I felt amazing and so lucky to be there and have this moment.  Caroline started talking more to me as I think she realized I was fading mentally.  She suggested that once we hit the grass, let’s turn on the sprint.  I wondered if I had it in me.

As we rounded the final turn to the grassy finish line, I knew I did.  My family, friends, Guide Dog, and hundreds of other folks had gathered there to bring us in for our epic moment.  The smile that had faded at the empty water trough came back ten-fold. I was about to be a triathlete.  And a darned fast one at that.  Caroline said, “when we get to the orange, hit it girl!”  Another gear that I didn’t know existed came out.

I grabbed her hand for both moral and physical support (the grass was still full of tree roots) and held it tight.  The crowd roared as we came down the finish shute.  This was all for us!  Oh my god!  We crossed the line, our hands held together high in the air, and I nearly stumbled. Not from exhaustion, but from relief and joy and disbelief.  Instead, I grabbed Caroline and gave her the biggest hug, holding on until I felt I could stop the tears from flowing.  In typical Amy fashion, I started to laugh. 

The finish line volunteers laid our medals on our necks, and I was greeted immediately by one very happy Labrador, ready to serve and with a huge supply of congratulatory kisses.  My mom, Rick, friends Jared and Laurie were all there to welcome us back and give a big hug of congratulations.  My coach came by for a high five, and photos of me and my fellow Greenwich CT triathletes.  OMG- I just said the word triathlete!  Oh YEAH!?  That’s ME!

I’ve never had a harder time holding back tears.  The race director presented me with an award, even though I wasn’t being timed against other para-athletes.  He even insisted on doing it as the first award of the ceremony so that everyone in the entire race could be there to cheer us on and help celebrate.  I was so grateful for the hundreds of people who watched Elvis, Caroline and I go up to receive that award.  It meant more to me than he’ll ever know.  As it turned out, we put in a pretty awesome time.  We passed people on the swim, bike, and the run.  It felt amazing to blow past people even after being started two minutes after the very last competitor had gone out on course.  1:34 was the official time.  We took a peek to see what that would be against my age group of 30-39.  16th place!  Hey- I’ll take a top 20 finish for my first tri!  That was like the cherry on top of the sundae!  I was just shooting to have a safe, fun, easy race- to finish fast was simply intoxicating to feel. 

For the first time in 5 years I felt STRONG and Able-bodied.  Not disabled.  Not Visually impaired.  Not ‘less than’ or ‘broken’.   I felt alive and like I could fly and be fast.  What an amazing feeling. After 5 years of surgeries, chemotherapy, a new guide dog, changing jobs, moving and heartbreak, this was absolutely one of the greatest moments of my life. I cannot think of a better person than Caroline Gaynor to share it with. 

I am Amy Dixon, and I am off to do my first Olympic Distance Triathlon in 5 weeks in NYC!  Go Team RWB and Team Achilles!  My name is Amy Dixon, and I am a TRIATHLETE!