Deb is a visually impaired (VI) paratriathlete who completed her first-ever paratriathlon last summer at the miniMussel Triathlon in Geneva, New York. After that race, a spark was lit. Deb decided to go all-in on pursuing the goal of becoming the best triathlete she could be. Her short term goals are to get as much racing experience as possible, but her longer-term goal is to qualify for the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris, France.
Deb and I started working together in October 2021. Since para racing differs a bit from able-bodied racing, I’m going to do a bit of a dive into some of the particulars of this type of racing along with Deb’s preparation and race.
As a VI elite athlete, Deb must race with a guide of the same gender. This can be a tall order since an athlete who guides a VI athlete needs their worst day to be better than the VI athlete’s best day. Essentially, this means that a VI athlete must work with a guide who is faster than they are, whether the guide is having an off day or a great day. It is a selfless and wonderful person who is capable of competing at this level on their own but chooses instead to use their training and racing to compete for and with a VI athlete.
A friend connected Deb with one such selfless and wonderful person - Ericka Hachmeister. They traveled together to a USA Paratriathlon Talent Identification Camp in November 2021 and hit it off. Deb was good to go! We set our sights on the 2022 Americas Triathlon Para Championships Sarasota-Bradenton to be Deb’s first elite race.
Deb had some MAJOR gains in training over the course of the five months that we had to prepare for this race. She brought her 5K time down by nearly five minutes, improved her FTP by 17.3% in just ten weeks, and brought her swim times down (she’s a sprinter by nature, so the 750-meter distance in her race has been an adjustment for her to get used to sustaining faster paces for!). She also practiced a lot of the “little” things that add up to be big things in racing, such as flying mounting and dismounting, smooth transitions, etc.
Heading into this race, we were both feeling that she was as prepared as she could have been in the time that we had to get ready for it. We headed to Sarasota (along with her brand-new custom Santana tandem bicycle) and race day came!
During a paratriathlon, a VI athlete is tethered to their guide for the swim and the run. For the bike portion of the race, they ride together on a tandem bicycle, with the guide as the pilot and the VI athlete as the stoker. There are very, very specific rules about where the guide can be relative to their athlete for the entirety of the race; the guide is there to guide, not pull, the athlete through the course.
Deb and Ericka had some challenges during the race; their swim tether broke mid-swim, but Ericka was able to knot it back together while underwater! The weather in Florida this past weekend was absolutely unseasonable (it caused the swim to be wetsuit mandatory…a rarity in Florida!). In addition, there were some very strong sustained winds, which created a lot of adversity on both the swim and the bike course.
By the time they were on the run, the sun was out and the temperature was high, but Deb still ran her way to a race-day-best 5K time! After she crossed the finish line, Deb said, “I couldn’t have gone harder.” There’s nothing better than knowing you gave your full, complete, best effort in training and on race day! Her smile in her post-race photos says it all.
Deb and Ericka finished in second place in the Female Visually Impaired (F-PTVI) category, which earned Deb points toward her world ranking and started off her elite racing career with a BOOM!
Congratulations to Deb for such a great debut race! And keep following her, folks. She's coming for you, 2024 Paralympic Games. :D
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.