Blinded By The Slight

Triathlon, an individual battle to see where your limits are. Nothing demonstrates the enormity of that struggle like the 140.6 miles of a full distance triathlon. From the time that cannon goes off, the athlete has 140.6 miles and 17 hours to find out what they are made of. Now imagine having to accomplish all of that while being visually impaired. Swim, bike and run not being able to see any of the obstacles in front of you. To get through this journey, the visually impaired athlete utilizes a guide who goes the entire race with them ensuring the visually impaired athlete completes the race safely. They work as a team to get the job done.

Tina Ament is a visually impaired athlete who has conquered numerous Ironman distance races, she is a highly experienced long course triathlete. This year a dream was realized when she got her “Golden Ticket” punched and she was Kona bound as she won entry via the lottery into the 2014 Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona Hawaii. That dream has been put in jeopardy when officials at WTC advised Tina that her guide Anne would not be a credentialed athlete which would hinder her ability to help Tina in parts of the course.

We at Onefortypointsix Media found this story quite shocking so we spoke with Lindy Smith, a member of Tina Ament’s team to find out more.

Onefortypointsix Media – So tell me about Tina and her team mate Anne. How did they meet and how many races have they done together?

Lindy Smith – Tina met Anne through one of Tina’s other guides, Caroline Gaynor.  Caroline was Tina’s guide for Ironman Arizona and Ironman New York.  Anne has guided Tina for Ironman Florida, Challenge Atlantic City, and some other smaller races.

Onefortypointsix Media – How did Anne and her team mate get their Kona slot? Why are they having problems if they validated their slot?

Lindy Smith – Tina received one of the 5 lottery slots designated for the Physically Challenged athletes.  She picked Anne to be her guide since Anne is a multiple Kona qualifier/finisher, 40+ Ironman finisher, and has even already qualified for the 2015 World Championship in Kona.

They used their Ironman Florida 2013 time to validate their slot.  Ironman Florida went great!  Anne was treated as the athlete that she is, even as Tina’s guide.  She was given her own individual race number, and a separate timing chip.  This is important, from a race liability standpoint, so that if something happens to Anne during the race, the race officials can identify her, and have her emergency contact information.  Unfortunately, that is not the case at this WTC race.  No race number, no timing chip, and no athlete wrist band for Anne.

Onefortypointsix Media – What has been WTC’s response thus far and the reason why Anne is having these problems?

Lindy Smith – Anne can go to the race, but she is being viewed by WTC as a ‘monitor’, not an athlete, and not a guide, which is what she is.  The only response from WTC directly that Anne and Tina have gotten is that Anne did not qualify for this race and therefore she is not one of the athletes and will not be given a number, a medal at the finish line (even though she is racing all 140.6 miles), was not allowed to go to the welcome dinner without paying $55, and needed to beg for a second swim cap and a second set of transition/special needs bags.

Onefortypointsix Media – That is amazing considering this is in the rules found on the Ironman World Championship website. “Visually Impaired – This is for athletes who are legally blind, 20/200 with best-corrected vision, requiring a guide throughout the race. If a guide is needed, they may use a tandem bike and may be tethered during the swim and the run.

Onefortypointsix Media – Is it in fact the case that Anne will not be able to race or will she be permitted on the course?

Lindy Smith – Anne will be permitted on the course, as Tina’s monitor.  Although, since she is not being viewed as an athlete, there is a great concern that there will be certain parts of the course that they won’t allow her to go.  If this happens on race day, it will be detrimental to Tina’s race.  Tina has no useable vision, and will not be able to make her way through any part of the course without a guide.  There is also concern over the part on the run course through the Natural Energy Lab.  A notification went out to all athletes saying that no organized team running or cycling permitted, and that, “it is mandatory that runners run single file on the road and off-road when necessary.” Any athlete failing to comply with this request may be subject to disqualification.

Onefortypointsix Media – So in essence, Anne will have to abide by all the rules in the athlete guide pertaining to race operations?

Lindy Smith – Today they told Anne she needs to abide by the rules in the athlete guide, but will not be recognized as an athlete. All the rules & requirements of an athlete with none of the protections or accommodations given to the athlete. In the end,  I like to think that surely they would understand that Tina and her guide have to run side by side, but after the way things have gone so far in Kona, I don’t think I want to assume anything. Neither do Anne and Tina.

Posted in Triathlon News

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