This past year was probably the most dramatic, emotional, exciting and rewarding 365 days of triathlon in my life. The roller-coaster ride began right off the bat with two smaller races before hitting the beast they call Wildflower. The year ended with the home run hitting performance at Ironman World Championships 70.3 in Clearwater, FL.
Beginning in February, guide Matt West flew across country for training camp. Our little camp has become an annual event in which we train by day and hit the town by night. It is tradition to go to the UW Husky stadium and run a 5K time trial on the track. Matt took me out by a bit, but I still came in at a preseason time of 17:24. My first race of the year was also my first race in the Pacific Northwest since moving to Seattle in 2005. The Spring Classic Duathlon is a relatively small race, but attracted unexpected competition. Local bud Graham Meng served as my guide and we road and ran to a 4th overall finish on the rainy cold and windy day in Portland, OR.
The next stop on the journey was a showdown in So Cal at the PossAbilities Reverse Sprint triathlon in Loma Linda, CA. PosAbilities is a great organization that helps challenged individuals learn that anything is possible. Although super short, this race was one of my “A” races. The prize purse is big and I had to redeem myself from the broken pedal disaster of the year before. Unfortunate food poisoning left me feeling under the weather the day before thee race but regardless I put it all out on the course. The finish was epic. It ended with a sprint to the finish with pro Ian Mickelson in which I took the head first dive across the line. This dive was valued at $400 because it separated a $700 and $300 check. In the end, my chest crossed the line first but that only counts in track and field. The timing chip is on the ankle and I lost the battle by 2/100ths of a second. Check out the video from the race below![youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AflErzczUtU&hd=1]
Just weeks later we made the road trip down the Pacific Coast Highway, past the giant Paul Bunyan and “ Single blue ball” Babe Ox, down the Avenue of the Giants, onto the cliffs overhanging the ocean and finally inland to Lake San Antonio. Some of the road trip highlights included two blind people driving, Matt West and Tanner becoming more than friends and 10,000 people camping in the middle of nowhere. The Wildflower race had the potential to be one of the greatest performances of my life until my desire to win got the best of me. The heat and relentless hills played havoc on guide Matt West and left him cramping on the side of the trail by mile 3. Matt wanted me to do my best and encouraged me, “you need to go ahead you are having an amazing race.” I pondered quickly on how I would do such a thing. Right nearby was an aid station and a friendly volunteer we will name “Jimmy” wearing cargo shorts and sandals became my eyes. Jimmy was probably not in the greatest of conditions to be running for reasons to be left unknown and was definitely struggling to keep the 5:30/mile pace that I had set. In fact, Jimmy lasted only one mile and I called on replacements at the next aid station. A new volunteer we will call Bobby was also not dressed to run but at least he had shoes on. Bobby lasted much longer and even helped me stop and throw out a few CDifferentwithAaron eye chart shirts along the way. Bobby hung in until mile 11 where he spotted another K-Swiss jersey and suspected it to be Matt West. I called over to Matt to take back the guiding duties and finish together as we started. We coasted down the 1-mile downhill to the finish and crossed the line in 4:37. I was later DQ’d from the race for abandoning my guide and using outside assistance. I was also dismissed from the US ParaTriathlon National Team later in the month. My decision to ask Bobby and Jimmy to help me out were wrong and I regret doing this. I made the decision in the heat of the race and my judgement was clouded by trying to do my best.
The events that took place at the Wildflower triathlon set off an explosion in the ParaTriathlon community and I was placed front and center. As someone that strives to be an ambassador for the sport and who will fight for the rights of others with visual impairments, I was put on a pedestal in which the only way I could win would be to give in. Luckily , I have the support from my fellow blind athletes and the C Different foundation because without them I would have never been able to get through the emotional roller-coaster that I was on.
The next race following Wildflower was the HyVee triathlon. This is one of the biggest in the world and would put me back on center stage with regards to the “blackout glasses” rule and my recent dismissal from the national team. I stayed away from any conflict regarding the above issues and focused on making a statement on the course. Unfortunately, crazy storms came through and the race was changed to a sprint. First time guide Erik Linchaman did an amazing job and I smashed my performance from the year before placing 9th overall from a previous 28th.
From the corn fields of West Des Moines, Iowa my next stop was the Big Apple. 2010 marked my 7th straight NYC Tri and another chance to run around in my Undies in Central Park in the Underwear Run two days before. As always, I had a hot female to guide me. This time I went with a new tether technique.I employed the hand cuff technique to ensure total confidence that I would not get separated from my beautiful female guide. The hand cuff method worked great and I even think my guide enjoyed it (haha.jk).
Supported by the C Different Foundation, 28 blind and visually impaired athletes raced without the newly imposed “blackout glasses rule” in protest of its safety and ethical concerns. I voiced my opposition to this rule by competing in the ParaTriathlon National Championship wave and walking the run with the glasses in protest. This may have been one of the most difficult races in my career.
After breaking down emotionally when putting the glasses on in transition I held it together and had two people walk with me to keep me on the course. The story made it into the New York Times and I hope made some sort of statement towards the cause.
Just two weeks later I was back on the race circuit but this time returning to the 70.3 distance at Ironman 70.3 Steelhead. It was also a return to my former stomping grounds of Michigan and those of you that know me can guess what came with the return. Yes that’s right, many Spartans from the MSU TriClub were also in the house to compete and to cheer. Todd Wiley and the family made the drive up from Philly and I was exposed to my first taste of silly bands. I was given a silly shoe and silly “A” which I still wear proudly to this day. Race morning was a bit wet and sloppy, but cleared up for the run. We strolled in with a time of 4:22 and immediately after I broke into some dance moves and began the CDifferentwithAaron t-shirt toss. Watch the video below! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=InIU1ShstYQ&hd=1
I remained in Michigan the following weekend to return to my beginnings and the 30th Annual Sylvania Triathlon. Matt West and I would attempt to make history again and break my past record of 1:58:26. At the end of the day I was shooting silly string all over and celebrating with a new record of 1:57:22. I even pulled out a little surprise from my back pocket and crossed the line with the Spartan flag. In addition, Matt and I celebrated the 30th Annual event with a 1st overall finish in a very competitive field.Watch some hightlights from Sylvania here!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5brwOmpf7k&hd=1 The following weekend I was back in Seattle to finish the streak of three races in three weeks with Lake Stevens 70.3. In my nearly six years of living in Seattle this marked my first true triathlon in the state of Washington. That being said, I had something a little special planned for the run. Matt West flew out and we unveiled the new Tank Cycles tandem on a challenging and scenic course. Come the run, I had a show planned and threw out visors
and shot silly string into the crowd each time we passed the “hot corner”. We crossed the race in 4:36 and were 10th overall amongst the amateurs. Following the race, my boys and I went out on the town. We showed Aussie Joe Gambles the town and made first mention of him being a hipster. He had no idea of what a hipster was, but because we were pretty much in Hipsterville it was easy to point out one and show him.
The relentless season continued just two weeks later with a third straight showing at the Chicago Triathlon. Matty “Tug Tug” West was again captain as we powered through the wind and ran to a finish of 2:03:02 and a 1st overall age group (minus age group elite) finish Following the race, it hit me that I had done 6 races in 8 weeks and my body was not a fan. I decided it was time for a short break. I also had to make another very important decision following Chicago.
Two weeks later was the ITU World championships in Budapest, Hungary. I had no motivation to do the race as a result of the newly enforced “blackout glasses” rule. I decided it was not worth it to put my safety, the safety of others and the integrity of blind and visually impaired individuals on the line and thus withdrew from the competition. Instead, I stayed back in Seattle and prepared to race hard at Ironman 70.3 Augusta three weeks later.
On September 26th, I traveled to Augusta, GA along with others from the C Different Foundation . The other blind athletes were formerly in the military but had lost their vision in combat. It was great to spend time and meet these individuals. One of these individuals was my boy Dexter Durante who floated his way through the swim and crossed the line for his first half ironman finish. Dexter is quite possibly the funniest guys alive. In terms of my race, it would be the guiding debut for MSU TriClubber and friend Matt Inch. Matt and I had not trained too much together, but on the day before I showed him the ropes a bit and we put down a great time of 4:18:22 on another wet and humid day. I don’t know if the locals in Augusta had a clue why 3,000 unusually slender individuals in spandex were roaming around their town but they seemed to get into it and made some good noise on the run course.
Following Augusta, I had two races remaining. I had committed to the OptimisPT Distance Swim challenge in Los Angeles and on the morning of the race I was questioning my decision to swim 4.8-miles in the cold and choppy Pacific Ocean. Making it more difficult was the fact that we would needed to come back to the beach every 1.2-miles for medical clearance. When the gun went off I was a bit more focused but still a little concerned about keeping my body temperature up. I have a little bit of an issue keeping warm and as a result manager Carrie Goldberg had one duty. Her job was to make sure that my hot chocolate made it to every check point so I could warm my soul.
When the swim was all over I was in my own little world spinning, but managed to win the 4.8-mile race. Following the race I spent the rest of the day hanging with another former MSU TriClubber JP Severin as well as former NFL star turned ESPN analyst Marcelis Wiley. Wiley, who had just learned to swim 6-weeks before completed the 1.2-mile swim race in a time that probably shouldn’t be disclosed. I think Marcelis would agree with Dexter Durante that he was “a completer not a competer” on this day.
The last stop on the 2010 triathlon road show was the big daddy of them all, The Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, FL. It would be a reunion from the previous year where Matt Miller and I strolled across the line with a World Record performance for a physically challenged athlete. This year I was back and determined to blow away my previous World Record of 4:18:54. I still felt like an Olympic distance triathlete attempting to convert to the 70.3 distance. In every 70.3 I had done leading up to this race I had bonked at mile 40 of the bike and then hit a wall on the run. This year I attempted to resolve this issue by running 50-miles in the week I spent in hot Kona, HA and increased the number of long runs I did each week.
The stage was set and all that was left was for me to go out and put on a record breaking performance. My goal was sub 4:10 and Todd Wiley would be the one to lead me to this goal. On race morning I got into race mode by singing a few songs from my iPod and went through a few rituals on the honey bucket throne. This year the swim was switched back to the ocean beach from the protected harbor of the previous year. We started in the second wave with the female pros and right off the bat I felt like a rag doll in the choppy up and down swells of the Gulf of Mexico. I could tell guide Todd Wiley was also trying to fight through the chop and sight for the buoys. Todd had explained the swim course prior to the start, but I think there was an extra buoy that was blocked from our view on shore. As we hit the second buoy and turned back to the beach we were followed by a kayaker who informed us there was one more buoy. We had to turn around and go back. This cost us some time, but we had to do it. The swim back in seemed much easier as their was a slight current going in towards shore. As we hit the beach in a disappointing 29.30 I knew we had some major time to make up on the bike and run. I knew I was considerably stronger on the bike this year and it would all come down to my run. Todd and I picked off pro females one by one and moved our way up the feeding chain until we started catching some of the male elites. The bike seemed a little more windy this year than last, but I was on a mission.
At mile 40 there was no let up. We rode a bike split of 2:06 and headed out on the run needing a sub 2:30 half marathon to break my 4:10 goal. I knew the run course like it was my backyard; I also knew I would have the support of my Clearwater SuperFan on the cosway bridge I would pass four times. I didn’t know that he would bust out the jumbo Team Scheidies banner and the megaphone, but I knew he would be there. Each time I went up and over the cosway I was motivated to pass my SuperFan who informed all those around him of the CDifferentwithAaron movement thus creating an army of Team Scheidies supporters. Todd kept me steady at a 6:50/mile pace for the first lap and I told him by mile 9 he better have his running shoes on because I was going to pick it up. We did just that as we approached the cosway one final time in the last 3-miles we had lowered our pace to nearly 6:00/mile.
The fans along the gated barriers were going nuts as we entered the final stretch. Todd informed me that I had one minute to break 4:10. I picked it up and kicked it in, but not without throwing up my hands and jumping around a bit. Todd and I crossed the line in a smashing time of 4:09:26, blowing away my previous World Record from the year before by over 9 minutes.
It was a day to remember.
A day where the swim was rough, but it all came together on the bike and run.
It was the best way to cap off an amazing 2010 racing season.
None of this could have been possible without the other players that make up Team Scheidies. I want to thank all of my guides for serving as my eyes and leading me to the successes I endured. I also want to thank my sponsors who have equipped and fueled me to each and every race victory. Last, but not least, I want to think my agent Carrie Goldberg, my fans, family, and friends for all the support and help I have needed to get through the roller-coaster ride that was 2010.
Thank you all again and I hope to write an even better recap to upcoming 2011 season!