Why leading a blind athlete through a triathlon changed my life (PART 1)

Me and paratriathlon national champ Jeremy Winters meeting at dinner the night before Music City Triathlon

Dear Izzy, Max, and Kate,

I learned so much about life yesterday. I wrote to you last week about my decision to lead blind triathlete Jeremy Winters through the Music City Triathlon. It wasn’t much of a decision really, it was something I knew that I was going to do from the beginning. I never dreamed the reality would change me the way it has though.

We met Jeremy and his wife and 3 kids at packet pickup on Saturday afternoon. I wandered around the crowd, talking with old friends and Faye and Therese from Team-Magic before I spotted Jeremy. We made small talk for a few minutes as he introduced me to his family.

The first thing we needed to do was practice getting on the tandem bike together. I had never been on a tandem in my life, much less with a blind man.

Jeremy let me take it for a spin around the LP Field parking lot by myself first. I felt confident enough after a couple of laps to try it with Jeremy on the back. I was terrified at first.

Riding a tandem is different. Riding a tandem with a grown man on the back is really different. We practiced for about 10 minutes. Stopping and starting. Practicing taking curves and hard turns.

You kids played with his three kids.

Once we were comfortable on the bike, or as comfortable as we were going to get, we practiced running together. Jeremy showed me how we would be tethered together with a rope about 1 meter long. We ran around the parking lot together, again negotiating turns, practicing paces, learning what he needed me to tell him. We talked about how the swim would work. How I would alert him that we were at each bouy. And how I would turn him and get him pointed in the right direction each time.

After practicing for just a few minutes we decided to go to dinner at the Mellow Mushroom. When I got in the van I looked at Mommy and said “I’m scared to death.” She put her hand on my back and rubbed it. There was nothing to say really.

The bike was the scariest part. Jeremy is 6 feet tall to my 5’5. I was barely able to reach the pedals and I was stretched out across the top tube to reach the brakes and gears. I assured Jeremy it was “fine” and I’d manage, but I was able to be honest with Mommy. It scared me. And doubt set in on me again. I wondered what I was doing. I worried we’d crash and both get hurt. I wondered why God had called me to this. Several minutes passed as we drove through downtown Nashville.

“You know,” said Mommy when we pulled in. “Once you’re out there tomorrow on the bike. It will be fine. You’ll be fine. You can do this.”

Our party of 10 (4 adults / 6 kids) sat in the back room at the Mellow Mushroom. You kids had a blast playing with Jeremy’s kids (daughters 10 and 8 and 3 year old son). Everyone got a little rowdy, but that was fine with us. You were having a great time and that allowed the adults to talk. We talked about how we met our spouses, college, church, getting started in triathlon, lots of stuff.

Here is a picture of you kids at dinner.

When we left Mommy said, “they are really nice! That makes this easier doesn’t it?” I agreed. I was happy to be doing it. Regardless of how my partner acted, but the fact that Jeremy and his family were so nice and down to earth made it easier. I wanted him to have a great day. But I also couldn’t let go of the pressure that I was feeling. I had convinced myself that we were going to take it easy out there. Jeremy just wanted another “finish” under his belt. After spending a few hours with him though, I knew I wanted more for him than a “finish”. I wanted to help him be his best. I wanted to help him show people that his “handicap” is only a limiter in their minds. I don’t know if he felt that way. But I did.

I was nervous and Mommy recognizes that in me. She asked me several times on the way home if I was “okay” and she put her hand on my back. She told me she was proud of me. And that you kids would be proud of me too when this was done.

I wondered about that. I thought about whether or not it was something to feel “proud” about. Or if it was just something that I was supposed to do all along. If this had been part of the plan from the day I started triathlon 11 years ago. I don’t think it’s an accident that Jeremy Winters and I crossed paths.

When we got home I gathered my stuff for the next morning. I thought about Jeremy and how he was feeling about the next day. He was doing it all in the dark, getting his mind wrapped around the fact that a stranger would be leading him through a race most people with sight never even attempt. There was a lot of weight on both of us I think.

I fell asleep thinking about what it might feel like to swim into complete darkness. The thought scared me. I drifted to sleep thinking what it must be like for him.

I’ll tell you about the race in my next letter.

I love you,

– Daddy
***** TO BE CONTINUED *****