I talked to Aaron Scheidies last week and we made a deal. If the world triathlon Corporation and USAT will allow it, I’ll guide him at Clearwater this year. The problem is, Aaron has been told that with ITU’s new campaign to get triathlon into the paralympics, they are imposing some new rules that will make this impossible.
First, Aaron and the other visually impaired athletes will have to run in black-out goggles. My first thought was, “that is going to make guiding much harder.” Thinking that the major difference would be that when I tell Aaron there’s a step or a root to watch out for, he’s going to have no perception of where that obstacle is, whereas with his natural vision he can at least perceive how quickly objects are coming at him, and even, perhaps, the location of larger objects – like trees. Aaron had further insight however. He suggests that taking away all vision from someone that is normally able to see something induces vertigo and some nasty other problems. The feedback from C Different regarding this rule has been extremely negative, and not because the athletes are afraid of being slowed down. They’re afraid of being made sick and of having to deal with a challenge that’s beyond reasonable. Since I’m not willing to risk injury from trying to run in blackout goggles, you’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s possible for someone without complete loss of vision to run with that temporarily taken away.
Second, and this one affects Aaron and myself, visually impaired athletes are no longer going to be able to accept pros for guides. This rule, evidently, is mirroring paracycling’s rule. The problem is that, unlike in cycling, completing a triathlon requires two sports where a guide’s weakness cannot be overcome by the visually impaired (VI) athlete. Let me explain. In cycling, VI athletes are on a tandem bicycle. The guide is on the front, and that guide pedals with the VI athlete, so the times are a result of both athletes working together. To allow a professional would simply mean allowing the wealthiest VI athlete to buy the best time trialist from the pro ranks, and just relax on the back end while that cyclist earns the VI athlete a medal (admittedly an oversimplification). One would expect the same precaution to be needed in triathlon, but the problem comes in the swim and run. Now, I know from my amateur career that swimmers like myself are pretty hard to find outside the professional ranks. Same with sub-35 10K runners, and finding the two together is pretty much impossible. So you take Aaron, force him to pick either a stellar swimmer who can keep up with him in the swim (and from my experience, that person will also need to fend off the struggling age-groupers who veer off course and are threaten to be tangled in the elastic tether connecting athlete and guide), or a stellar runner who can allow Aaron to find his own limit while being sufficiently within his own abilities to be able to guide an runner who’s suffering from black-out goggle induced vertigo. Personally, if I’m running at my limit, I am not capable of forming words to describe approaching obstacles.
So does Aaron pay a top age-grouper to guide him? Will he have to train a new guide every season, or can he find a sponsor with enough money to pay a pro to remain amateur? The extra firepower on the bike may seem like an unfair advantage if Aaron is guided by, say, Chris Lieto, but how can someone with the talent of Aaron Scheidies even attempt to reach his own potential if he’s restricted to guides who are not capable of leading him in the swim and run? Doesn’t that added handicap outweigh the potential problems that paracycling foresaw with professional guides?