Jan Ditchfield(l) Shelley Ann Morris(m) and Robin Hardage(r) (Shelley Ann’s Guide)
By: Shelley Ann Morris
In July 2010, I wrote down a goal: in 2011 I would complete my first Sprint distance triathlon.
Getting involved with Won With One, Canada’s first Blind/Visually-impaired triathlon team, was the first step. Previously, I’d done 5 and 10K runs and 17 CN Tower Stair Climbs. My sister had just completed her first marathon—it was time for me to take on a new challenge, too. Triathlon’s variety of swimming, biking and running appealed to me as it could help me to develop all-round fitness. Through friends, I was introduced to Jan Ditchfield, the team’s Executive Director. Before I knew it, I was part of this national family of triathletes. Acceptance onto this team is not solely based on prior athleticism–a positive, can-do attitude is as mandatory as our tethers and bike helmets. Our team is comprised of people with various degrees of vision and different athletic goals—some aspire to paralympic gold while others, like me, aspired to completing my first sprint distance. We are united by a drive to compete in triathlon and to show the sighted world that a lack of vision need not mean a lack of participation.
In order to prepare well, I joined the Ottawa Triathlon Club’s Triathlon Training Program (TTP), which runs from January until August. During the winter months we train on spinning bikes and then finish with some muscular strength and core exercises. When the nicer weather comes, our sessions on the bike are followed by a ‘brick’ run outdoors with a strength and stretch component afterward. We are also encouraged to join in the additional track workouts and open-water swims. I also do some of my workouts at the Dovercourt Recreation Centre and some classes for blind/visually-impaired participants at the Jack Purcell Community Centre here in Ottawa.
Throughout the year, I prepare for the annual CN Tower Stair Climb in April and then a number of runs and triathlons from May until October. This year, I did my first Try-a-tri, 3 sprint distance triathlons and a number of 5 and 10K runs.
I have been very fortunate to always have wonderful guides without whom I could not participate. Robyn Hardage is an experienced triathlete who completed her first half-iron distance this year. She shared her passion for triathlon with me during our training sessions, the Try-a-tri, our first Sprint Distance in Peterborough and another at Sand Lake Ontario. Guide and triathlete must work as one brain, two bodies. Amber Lee Ficociello did a fantastic job guiding me in Kelowna B.C. –we worked really well in sync—quite an amazing feat as we live four provinces apart and had never met until one day before race day! Our guides share their enthusiasm for the sport—without them, we would be forced to stay on the sidelines. Thankfully my guides were experienced triathletes who taught me a lot–everything from riding a tandem bike to getting me out of my wet suit. They were dealing with a real ‘newbie’ and did it so well.
My sister Colleen Bird was my first guide. A runner, she encouraged me to take up the sport even when I complained “I can’t run!” She never let me say “Can’t!” We ran our first 5K three years ago. Our parents are so proud of us! Our father ran marathons and is pleased to see that both his daughters are following quite literally in his footsteps. George Hajecek is a volunteer in the blind/Visually-impaired fitness class—I introduced him to Won With One and he guided his first triathlete to a first-place victory in July 2011. As sanctioned races disqualify mixed teams, George and I stick to running. We have successfully completed three 10K runs this year.
In 2012, I look forward to competing in two compulsory competitions—K-town in Kingston, Ontario in July and the Sand Lake Triathlon at the end of August. I will also do my share of runs, and an 18th trip up the CN Tower stairs.
Jan Ditchfield and our other supporters work tirelessly to make sure that we can compete in triathlons all over North America—a challenge as there are numerous hurdles, creating athlete-guide pairs and having to constantly search for funding sources and sponsorships. Jan is a true miracle worker–her passion and belief in our team is strongly evidenced by the many barriers she has broken down. Our coach, Cathy Rober provides us with all kinds of practical tips and suggestions both on a team and an individual level.
Our participation calls for logistical expertise as moving large numbers of tandems, getting wetsuits and tethers, matching guides with athletes and informing race directors of our needs takes time, effort, patience, diplomacy, assertiveness and the ability to educate others. Triathlon can be an expensive sport, and the costs skyrocket when the accommodation needs of blind athletes are included. Jan and the team work with dogged determination to find funding and sponsorship sources, for which we are very grateful.
No triathlete is complete without the right gear. I knew nothing about what to bring or what I should wear. Thankfully, more seasoned triathletes helped me with checklists and lots of phone calls and emails. Won With One helped me to get all that I needed, right down to my shoes. We are thankful that Mizuno Canada supports us where athlete meets the ground—I know that the shoes make a big difference to our performance.
All athletes have said that being part of the Won with One Triathlon team has been ‘life-changing.’ Along with being a fitter, faster 49-year-old, I am doing things that one year ago were out of my realm of possibilities. I can now run hands-free while tethered on a treadmill. Thanks to some coaching from a teammate, I am now using Facebook!
Along with running in on that home stretch, it’s a proud moment when the team–guides and athletes alike–ride in on our big tandem bikes en masse. Everyone is looking at us as our trusty steeds are rather noticeable. We are smiling proudly, saying “This is how WE roll!”