Nov 19, 2015

Two Are Better Than One

By: Courtney Patterson

It takes a community of people to make races happen. A committee to plan the event, countless volunteers to facilitate water and recover stations, set-up and tear down crews, and supporters to encourage athletes as they train as well as on race day.

But for athletes who are blind and visually impaired, races wouldn’t happen without people like Caroline Gaynor. Gaynor is a super guide. She travels the country to guide athletes in races and triathlons. To date, Gaynor has guided 10 athletes in more than 30 triathlons, including 6 Ironman races. This year, Gaynor guided 2 Ironmans in a span of less than two months.

Athletes are often hesitant to serve as guides, fearing they will cause injury or poor performance for the blind athlete. However, most who have tried it will tell you, that is simply not the case. Guiding becomes natural quickly, and is often more enjoyable than competing solo.

“I’ve been doing endurance sports for over 15 years but I guide because it’s bigger than me,” said Gaynor. “I get a lot more out of [competing] as a guide.”

Generally, the guide and athlete will run and swim in unison with a foot-long tether held firmly in the fingers, or tied at the waist or thigh during the swim, of the guide and the athlete. Tethers can be as simple as a shoe string, or made of stronger materials, such as leather. The purpose of the tether is to allow freedom of movement for both the athlete and the guide, but keep them in close proximity of each other. As they run and swim, the guide will provide verbal cues to the athlete on things like upcoming hills, turns, approaching runners or swimmers, where they are in the race, times, etc.

“It’s important to be adaptable,” said Gaynor. “I always want to communicate with the athlete and find out their preferences, for instance, making sure I know which side they want to be on, how much they want to talk.”

Matching energy levels is also important when finding a guide or athlete with whom to race. Being faster than the athlete allows the guide to focus on the athlete’s needs and relax, not concerning themselves with their ability to keep up.

“Though I know that I am not responsible for how any of my athletes feel about their performance, it can be hard not to feel responsible when a race doesn’t go the way they want,” said Gaynor. “Ideally, even on my worst day, I want to be faster [than my athlete]. But it’s also about the partnership and enjoying the company of your partner. Seventeen hours is a long time to be tied to one person!”

Although guiding can be enjoyable once you and your athlete find a rhythm, the experience does not come without its frustrations. Logistically, a lot of things can throw you off. Tandem bikes that have been shipped to the race location have to arrive on time. Equipment can fail on the course.

For Gaynor, the most recent moment of tested flexibility came when she and her athlete had to start a swim at the same time as 2,000 ‘Kona-hopefuls’. Usually, athletes tethered together for the swim are allotted a 10 minute start before everyone else begins the swim. In Maryland, because of a delayed start due to weather and a miscommunication with the announcer, that didn’t happen.

“The 10 minute head start gives us an opportunity to find a rhythm,” said Gaynor. “I love those first 10 minutes, though it is a little nerve wracking to watch a wall of 2000 ironman athletes swimming towards us after the age-group gun goes off.”

“[In Maryland,] all of the sudden, we were surrounded by ridiculously strong athletes, trying desperately to get past us,” recalls Gaynor. “I cannot imagine how that experience felt to Tina.”

On her blog, Caroline commends her athlete, Tina Ament, for handling the chaos well and adapting to the situation.

Though there are moments of frustration and points of exhaustion during every race, it’s an exhilarating adrenaline rush for Gaynor.

“I love the races you’re not sure if you can finish and I think there’s something about guiding that makes every race sort of feel like that. You don’t know what elements are going to come into play.”

Donating time and talent by guiding an athlete who is blind or visually impaired through an endurance race is perhaps one of the ultimate forms of volunteerism. Beyond the time and effort Gaynor donates, she donates vacation days and often covers her own travel and entry expenses when guiding.

“A lot of people assume I don’t work, or that I get paid to guide,” Gaynor told us. “Neither of these things are true. I have a job in finance that I love and I have never made any money coaching or guiding athletes. I tend not to take actual vacations, because I spend so many vacation days racing, but that’s a decision I’m happy with. Some people want to sit on a beach and relax; I’d rather race an Ironman as a guide.”

Gaynor initially got involved with guiding through Achilles International and is now a member of Team Red, White & Blue, an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity. Gaynor sharpened her tandem piloting skills at two USABA Cycling Development Camps, in Chula Vista (2009) and Birmingham (2011). She also races as a guide for Dare2Tri, a Chicago-based paratriathlon organization.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that [my athletes] enjoy the race and that they are able to run the race they want to run,” says Gaynor. In this video, Gaynor emphasizes “it’s not my race.”
“We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves and have purpose. Being a guide and working towards something bigger than myself has gotten me through hard times. Guiding has kept me going when I’ve wanted to stop competing.”

“It should be a goal that every blind athlete in the U.S. can do the race(s) they want to do because there are enough trained guides available to assist,” Gaynor said.

Unfortunately, we’re not there yet. For every blind athlete participating in a race in the U.S. with a guide, there are multiple athletes unable to participate simply because a guide is not available. If you’re interested in helping us meet this goal by serving as a guide in your community, contact the United States Association of Blind Athletes to get connected to a local sport partner with athletes looking for guides or check out United in Stride, an online tool uniting runners who are blind or visually impaired with sighted guides across the U.S.













Kim Borowitcz and Gaynor at the start of the New York City Triathlon in 2008.













Borowitcz and Gaynor exiting the swim at the New York City Triathlon in 2008.

Ironman Lake Placid 2010 Bike - starting the second 56 mile loop

Gaynor piloting Patricia Walsh on the tandem bike, starting the second 56-mile loop at Ironman Lake Placid in 2010.











Gaynor and Walsh running towards the finish line at Ironman Lake Placid in 2010.












Gaynor and Walsh exiting the swim at Ironman Lake Placid in 2010. The duo had to use two bike tubes as a makeshift tether.











Walsh and Gaynor starting the run at Ironman Lake Placid in 2010.

Nov 10, 2015

2015 USABA National High School Goalball Championships Tournament Recap

Florida Cobras and Lakeshore Foundation Capture 2015 USABA National High School Goalball Championships

By: James Crozier, Special Contributor

Sixteen teams were on hand for the 2015 USABA National High School Goalball Championships, hosted by the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) in St. Augustine, Florida for the 22nd year.  The tournament proved to be action-packed as teams competed with passion for the opportunity to claim a spot in the medal rounds.

Upon completion of pool play and quarter-final action on the girls’ side, the final four teams (Arizona Sentinels, FSDB Cobras, Texas Wildcats, and Washington Lionesses) competed for medal positions in the semi-finals.  In the first semi-final, the Arizona Sentinels faced off against Washington.  The Washington Lionesses relied on their excellent defense and some timely scoring to win, 7-2, and advanced to the championship game.  In the next semi-final match, the Florida Cobras and Texas Wildcats played in a rematch of pool play action, which would result in the winner taking the other spot in the title game.  The girls from Florida played solid defense and attacked the scoring zones with frequency to win, 11-2, and advanced to the finals.

In the bronze medal game, the Arizona Sentinels took on the girls from Texas.  After a tight defensive battle in the first half, the Texas Wildcats would find some gaps in the Arizona defense later in the game and go on to win, 4-1, claiming the bronze medal.  The gold medal game featured host team Florida against medal-round newcomer, Washington Lionesses.  After an early Washington 1-0 lead, Florida fought to take the lead at 2-1.  Florida began to pull away midway through the second half, and would go on to win 7-3, capturing the 2015 National Championship and gold medal position, sending the Lionesses to a silver medal finish.

After quarter-final action on the boys’ side of the draw, the final four teams  (Lakeshore Foundation, Georgia Panthers, Texas Wildcats, and Arizona Sentinels) would face off to decide medal positions.  In the first semi-final, Lakeshore Foundation would look to secure a spot in the championship game for the third year in a row against the Arizona Sentinels.  Lakeshore Foundation played outstanding defense and demonstrated offensive prowess in their first semi-final win, 11-1. Lakeshore advanced to the title game. In the second semi-final game, it was the Georgia Academy Panthers facing the Texas Wildcats.  Similar to the first semi-final, the Texas Wildcats would play suffocating defense, frustrating Georgia into mistakes, winning 11-1, and claiming a spot in the title game.

The bronze medal game was a back and forth offensive contest where the Arizona Sentinels outscored the Georgia Panthers 18-11 to claim bronze.  In the championship game, Lakeshore Foundation would look to defend their 2014 title against the Texas Wildcats for the gold medal and 2015 National Championship.  After a tight defensive battle for much of the game and finding themselves tied up at 2-2 late in the second half, the Lakeshore Foundation’s championship experience would prove to be the determining factor. Lakeshore won the closest contest in a medal round, 5-3, to win the gold medal and 2015 National Championship, and the Texas Wildcats claimed the silver.

During the post-tournament awards presentation, several student-athletes and teams were recognized:

Team Sportsmanship

Girls –  Utah Rage
Boys –  Washington Lions

High School All-Americans

Girls - Ashley Centimole – Florida
         Demetria Ober - Texas
        Oryan Fitim – Washington
        Aaliyah Gisondi – Florida
        Ella Donaghey – Washington
        Vanessa Coleman (MVP) – Florida












Boys - Parker Stewart – Lakeshore Foundation
          DeAngelo Willis – Georgia Academy
          Davion Perez - Texas
          Jordan Main - Texas
         Armando Cruz – Arizona
         Josh Welborn (MVP) – Lakeshore Foundation












Final Girls Placement:
1st – Florida Cobras
2nd – Washington Lionesses
3rd – Texas Wildcats
4th – Arizona Sentinels
5th – Georgia Panthers
6th – Utah Rage
7th – New York Stars
8th – South Carolina Hornets












Final Boys Placement:

1st – Lakeshore Foundation
2nd – Texas Wildcats
3rd – Arizona Sentinels
4th – Georgia Panthers
5th – Washington Lions
6th – Utah Havoc
7th – Florida Cobras
8th – South Carolina Hornets

Oct 22, 2015

Racing Kona

Racing Kona: USABA triathlete Steve Walker fulfills childhood dream

By: Courtney Patterson

At USABA, we encourage athletes to pursue their dreams, to set lofty goals and achieve them but some athletes do not need the external motivation. Steve Walker’s internal drive got him into Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), through boot camp, and employed as a corporal with the U.S. Marine Corps. But, when a diagnosis from the eye doctor meant Walker would be non-deployable, it was his family and the community around him that helped him realize his childhood dream and cross the finish line at the 2015 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii on October 10.

As a young athlete, Walker aspired to compete in the Ironman Kona. Joining the Marines and starting a family took priority, but the dream of competing in this iconic race never faded.

“I’ve been watching [the races] on T.V. since I was 11 or 12,” Walker recounts. “The images of Queen K Highway and Kailua Bay are ingrained in my mind.”

Walker’s internal drive persevered even as he was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2001, just one year after joining the Marines. Retinitis Pigmentosa is an incurable eye disease that suffocates the cells in the retina. The rate of progression varies from person to person though doctors told Walker he would most likely be totally blind by the time he is 40 or 50.

Walker trained with the ROTC from the eighth grade, made it through boot camp and had just started his career as a corporal only to be deemed non-deployable. As he dealt with the news and began to make adjustments, it was his wife, Kacey, who initially reignited his internal drive to compete in triathlons.

Walker began training, and attended a USABA Cycling Development Camp in May 2014. Attending the camp expanded his network with athletes, specifically tandem pilots and stokers, across the U.S. who have helped him become a more skilled road racer. Fellow USABA members Richard Hunter and Aaron Scheidies, an elite triathlete training to qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, were and continue to be huge supporters throughout Walker’s athletic endeavors.

“Aaron is a beast. He’s amazing. Physically, I want to be Aaron. We’re the same age so we’re going to grow old together,” Walker jokes.

“Richard picks up stragglers like me. He helped me so much when I first got started.”

“And he gives back so much to the community. Richard is always working with youth who are blind, and he organizes the group of blind runners for the USABA National Marathon Championships each year.”

Walker competed in his first sprint triathlon in June 2013. He has since run 10 triathlons, Kona being his tenth. Though you may think by his tenth triathlon Walker has overcome all possible obstacles, there is one major obstacle he must overcome every race – his fear of open water.

“My first triathlon, a lifeguard swam next to me. I panicked half-way through [the swim]. We had to wait until I calmed down to continue.”

Since that first swim, Walker has developed techniques that aid him during open water swim including counting arm strokes and finding a rhythm in his breathing.

“The chaos of the other swimmers actually has the opposite effect on me. I know that there are people everywhere and I feel more at ease. Now, I count 25 arm strokes at a time. I find my rhythm and breathing pattern and I’m okay,” he says.

Though the panic has happened in every race with the exception of one open water swim in Malibu, he continues to face his fear for the feeling of accomplishment when his feet touch land again.
“It’s a huge victory and small celebration every time.”

Kona was no different. Though Walker has access to training equipment in all three disciplines in his backyard, Walker and his guide, Chris Foster, trained in Long Beach Bay for the swim. He still had to face his fear in Kailua Bay.

Film crews were following him throughout the race to document and share his experience with the world.

“I kept picturing the crew having to say ‘He didn’t make it past the swim’. I couldn’t let that happen."

Days after crossing the finish line with Foster, Walker agrees that the Ironman World Championships is a race he will remember for the rest of his life.

“[Kona] turned out better than I could have imagined. Every detail lived up to what I thought it would be like.”

He immediately attributes success to his guide. “Chris was flawless on the course. I was tested pretty hard on this one.”

Walker will compete in the USABA National Marathon Championships December 6 in Sacramento with the goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. In April, Walker will compete in the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside.

“It’s a special one because this will be my third time racing Oceanside and the course passes through Camp Pendleton, where I was stationed. So, the area is heavy with Marine Corps and Navy.”
Meanwhile, he continues to work on getting his speed up for the USA Paracycling Road National Championships in Winston-Salem, N.C. next year.

At every opportunity, Walker encourages other blinded military veterans to get involved in sports.

“Actually, it’s overwhelming how much [information] there is. There is so much opportunity out there. It sounds cliché, but Google whatever you’re looking for and you’ll probably find it.”
Shortly after getting involved in triathlons, Walker found a circuit of military vets participating in triathlons and cycling across the U.S.

“Reach out and we’ll be more than happy to answer questions and give you information to get you going. My advice is find a veteran who is doing what you want to be doing and reach out!”

Walker’s Kona experience, as documented by Ironman PR and NBC, will air on November 14, 2015 from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC. You can follow him on Instagram @stevewalkerracing or read about the Kona experience from his perspective on his blog.

Steve is pictured walking between his guide, Chris Foster, and daughter, Jordan, who is offering encouragement and ice water on Mile 10 of the marathon portion of the race.



















Photo courtesy of Steve Walker. Steve is pictured walking between his guide, Chris Foster, and daughter, Jordan, who is offering encouragement and ice water on Mile 10 of the marathon portion of the race.

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