Blind Chicks Traincation 2016
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.
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…
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!