Up until now I have purposely stayed away from any kind of results posting the times of visually impaired women competing in triathlon around the world. Today curiosity got the best of me and I looked: I wish I hadn't. Okay, part of me wishes I hadn't. The times are fast; really fast. Maybe to someone who has been in the triathlon world for a while, they wouldn't seem fast, but to my newbie eyes the times seem very fast.
I don't know what I expected. Of course the times should be fast; the times I looked at were from the 2011 GE World Championships held in Beijing. The winner, who was from Great Britain, finished the race in just under an hour and 25 minutes, with the second place woman not far behind her. All of the results were broken down into the legs of the race and what shocked me the most was how fast the swim times were. Even as a retired swimmer, I'm not sure I will ever be able to swim that fast, but on the other hand, if I want to compete for medals, I'm going to have to. I could be completely off, but judging by how fast the swim times were, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of the women were visually impaired (or low vision) as opposed to totally blind. Any amount of vision gives an athlete an advantage, no matter how small it may seem.
There are many types of visual impairment, but the easiest way to explain it is someone who has low vision, legally blind (there are varying degrees of this), and totally blind, meaning completely blind. Athletes who have a bit of vision have a slight advantage in that they can learn technique much easier and properly, which improves race times. This makes a low vision athlete's potential for faster times much more likely. There are other advantages to being low vision as opposed to totally blind, but this learning of technique is one of the most important factors.
The problem is that there aren't enough totally blind or visually impaired athletes competing in triathlon to make two separate races. In other sports, such as swimming, where there are enough totally blind or visually impaired athletes, athletes compete against other athletes with similar visual capabilities; leveling the playing field to some degree.
Knowing all of this and reading those times, made part of me wonder what I was doing. If the playing field is not level, how can I possibly contend for medals in 2016?
The other part of me, the part I usually listen to, doesn't care. That part sees it as a challenge and revels in it. Besides, if every totally blind athlete backed down just because the races weren't entirely designed with optimal fairness in mind, then there would be no totally blind athletes at all. If no one embraces the challenge things will not change and Para triathlon will never grow. Perhaps I won't make my mark by bringing home loads of gold medals, perhaps I will, but the important thing is to make changes where they can be made in order to better the Paralympic Games experience for all athletes. If that means being one of the only totally blind athletes who brings up the rear, but the rear at the Paralympics nonetheless, then so be it. If I can make this process a bit easier for someone else,that will be worth a million medals. Of course I strive for gold, but sometimes you have to find smaller, just as important goals along the way. Plus, 2016 is still five years away; a lot can happen between now and then.