Blind Chick Traincation UK Edition

By December 16, 2016Blog

 

Blind Chicks Traincation 2016

UK Edition

Me and my honorary little sister from the UK, Melissa Reid chase each other on the track

Me and my honorary little sister from the UK, Melissa Reid chase each other on the track

 

What do triathletes do in the ‘off season’ you might ask. Some might take a vacation to a non-sporty island or throw in a ski trip or hop on a plane to see family they’ve missed throughout the year. When that’s over, we focus on building up our weaknesses as athletes, and for me, that’s my brain, my swim, and my strength. So, once I got some good strength training sessions in at home, and a good chat with my sports psychologist, I booked my flight to London to go visit my friend and competitor, British Paralympic Triathlon Bronze medalist Melissa Reid and her amazing swim family.

Melissa, her father Allan, and I met two years ago at my first World Championships in Edmonton Canada. After getting to know her sarcastic and somewhat politically incorrect sense of humor, and her ‘take no shit from anyone’ attitude, I could see we were going to be fast friends. This past year we had hoped to toe the line together in Rio, planning all the fun we were going to have post-race, yet it was not meant to be. Melissa and her father were two of my most staunch advocates in trying to get an elective slot into the Paratriathlon Race there, despite us being from opposing nations. When Melissa won bronze, after knowing the incredible challenges she had faced personally leading up to the race, I couldn’t have been happier than if I had gone and medaled myself.

After Rio, we immediately decided that it was time she took some time off and visited sunny California with me last month, and then I would head across the pond to begin training with her in preparation for a big season ahead. Melissa and her sister Courtney are extremely accomplished swimmers from Cornwall, UK, a rugged, misty, lushly green coastal area of southwest England. Their father coaches dozens of swimmers in several swim clubs there, and has raised two really talented and hardworking athletes. Their approach to training is no-frills, methodical, and full of hard work. They train in any and all conditions and manage to be internationally successful at triathlon on the tightest of budgets. Why? Because it’s their whole life and they love it.

Melissa grew up visually impaired, but never got a break. Her dad did her a huge service by pushing her to be independent and to never use her vision as an excuse not to work hard or be successful in sports. When Melissa wanted to go to college 7 miles from home, and couldn’t afford a bus pass, her father, an expert bike mechanic, found her a single bike to ride and insist she learn to ride solo to get back and forth to school each day. Nothing has been handed to this tough young woman.

 

The first day I arrived, I was greeted by their pack of wonderful dogs, and my guide dog Woody immediately made new friends and settled in with a good session of fetch at the beach merely steps from their front door. The next day we hit the pool. I walked in with Woody by my side to the giggles and delights of more than a dozen kids around the age of ten and an equal amount of teens all ready to work hard for coach Allan in the pool. Woody supervised as I struggled to stay out of their way as we circle-swam clockwise for a few thousand meters. I was relieved and grateful to have Allan’s watchful eye to assess where I would need the most work for the next three weeks. I ended up with WAY more than I could have asked for.

After a great run with Allan and Melissa - warming up and drying off!

After a great run with Allan and Melissa – warming up and drying off!

I had Three weeks of nightly decadent home cooked dinners with meats from the local butcher who sponsors Melissa, three weeks of twice daily walks on the beach with Woodstock, three weeks of great wine shared after late night swim workouts, rehashing all the gossip from the kids, and going over what worked and didn’t work for me as an athlete during the sessions, and some magical moments.

 

Moments like running Kenyan hill repeats (sprinting downhill as fast as you can multiple reps) in the pitch dark with Allan talking me through every terrifying step, moments like running on the track with Melissa teasing and taunting me to get me to run faster while trying not to giggle despite the pain, getting to meet the adorable kids who had never ‘seen’ an American before, let alone a guide dog, and who wanted my autograph; moments where I got to sit in a local pub with dogs milling about, and the local rugby team comes in blitzed after their club Christmas party; eating my first Cornish pasty and sticky toffee pudding; getting to tandem for the most delicious hot cocoa at a cool little coffee shop in the countryside, surrounded by horses and sheep and fields for miles; watching in awe as my blind friend managed to safely ride a stationary bike on rollers and a single bike on the road as she followed us on the tandem; having a magnificent traditional Cornish breakfast on my birthday; racing relays with a bunch of ten year olds cheering you on at 41 years of age. THESE things I will remember forever. Especially this…

“Today was as a BIG historic day for me. Today marks the last time I ever drove a car. Today, 9 years ago, I hung up the keys to my brand new convertible that I could no longer drive. I cried for weeks, no months, staring at this gorgeous vehicle in my driveway, gathering snow with each passing day, mourning my loss of independence. I couldn’t see a way forward.
But TODAY I did something incredible and incredibly freeing thanks to my fellow blind athlete and friend Melissa Reid. I ran. I ran BY MYSELF for the first time since losing my vision. I’ve always known I could do it under the right conditions. Good lighting, even surface and no cars, with measurable markers to know where I was. The majestic seaside cliffs and quiet old carriage roads of Cornwall provided the perfect opportunity. Melissa showed me her favorite spot to do out and back repeats that equaled a perfectly flat and scenic 1km each rep. I put on my bright yellow Athleta knit, quietly place my ear buds in, and set out to do 8 miles. By myself. By the third km I was in tears with happiness and freedom, knowing that I was able to do something safely that I haven’t been able to manage for years because of where I live, and all the congestion and uncontrollables. The fields of cabbage sprawled out before me for miles, dotted with the occasional flock of sheep or wooly horses grazing in the distance. To my right, the Atlantic Ocean. Today I got to to RUN. I’m one VERY LUCKY blind woman. And today I got to “just be” a regular runner. Thank you missy for showing me it’s possible.“- Facebook post from my page
Woody savors his last walk along the ocean in Cornwall

Woody savors his last walk along the ocean in Cornwall

Of course it wouldn’t be a true ‘Blind Chick’ traincation without a little drama.  Let’s see- I lost two pairs of gloves, one dog bowl, a dog haltie, a shirt and a water bottle.  That’s what happens when you can’t see and aren’t organized!  Woody ended up in an unexpected six hour quarantine.  And I, in the middle of the night, nearly knocked myself out cold after  smashing my head on a dresser I didn’t see and causing a nasty bloody head wound.  Thank you to Courtney lee for staying calm despite the blood and my inability to communicate due to extreme pain.  Melissa then tried to injure me further by taking me to a trampouline facility.  That went better than expected…. And lastly, we got to tether ourselves to young swimmers and show them how to guide.  All was going well until we ended up nearly drowning while getting tangled all together at the buoy!  lol!

Did I achieve my goal to get faster in the water? Absolutely. My head spins with all the exciting new workouts I can share with my coach Ray Kelly and my friends back home. I now understand a little more behind the ‘why’ when training certain parts of the swim and how that affects my speed and ability as an athlete. I am overcome with gratitude that Allan, Courtney and Melissa opened their home to this wayward blind chick and her crazy guide dog for three weeks, taking me to see sights, cooking, cleaning, transporting, entertaining, taking time off, and making sure I had everything I needed to train and have fun. There are so many reasons I love competing as an international Paratriathlete, but certainly the best one is that it has opened my eyes to new friends. THANK YOU Reid Family! See you in Tokyo!

Teaching the next generation how to guide blind athletes was one of the highlights of my trip!

Teaching the next generation how to guide blind athletes was one of the highlights of my trip!

 

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