Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Positive attitudes help two visually impaired triathletes race on

Aaron Scheidies, left, a visually impaired triathlete, runs with guide Matt West during this year’s NYC Triathlon. Scheidies won his division in the event.

Special to the Times

Aaron Scheidies, left, a visually impaired triathlete, runs with guide Matt West during this year’s NYC Triathlon. Scheidies won his division in the event.

Aaron Scheidies thinks attitude is everything.

"If you think you can, you can," said the 27-year-old visually impaired triathlete who will compete in Saturday's Ironman World Championship 70.3 on Clearwater Beach. "You have to learn how to smile through the pain."

Scheidies, a physical therapist from Seattle and four-time world champion, began to lose his eyesight in middle school.

"I went through some really hard times," said Scheidies, who now has just 10 percent of the vision of a fully sighted person. "I battled depression. … I wanted to be normal like everyone else."

Scheidies suffers from a hereditary eye disease called macular degeneration. His condition worsened in high school, but instead of giving up sports, the avid runner and swimmer focused on what he did best.

"When I first started running triathlons, I still had enough of my vision left that I could do them on my own," he said. "The bicycle part was a little dangerous. Eventually it got too difficult, and I had to start racing with a partner."

Triathlons helped Scheidies in other areas of his life.

The self-confidence that the training and racing gave Scheidies helped him achieve a 4.0 grade point average and earn a bachelor of science degree from Michigan State University. In July 2008, he completed a doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Washington.

"Still, when I race, there is an asterisk by my name," he said. "I always wonder that if I could see better, could I be more aggressive on the bike, could I swim straighter, could I focus more of my energy on the race than where I want to go."

But in the end, Scheidies is proud of his accomplishments. He has competed in more than 100 triathlons, including the Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run) as well as several Ironman 70.3 events, so named because they are exactly half the distance of the famous Hawaiian race.

"I am still pretty fast," said Scheidies, who hopes to complete the Clearwater course in 4 hours, 20 minutes. "But I wonder if I could be faster."

The buddy system

Scheidies won't be the only visually impaired athlete at Saturday's event.

Ryan Van Praet, a 29-year-old from Chatham, Ontario, will compete. Like Scheidies, Van Praet suffers from a hereditary disease, retinitis pigmentosa.

"It is all I have ever known," Van Praet said. "I used to play hockey, but as my vision steadily deteriorated, I had to do something else to stay active.''

Van Praet did his first triathlon at age 19. He completed his first 70.3 race in 2003 and his first Ironman the following year.

"I learned a lot from Aaron," Van Praet said. "The major thing is that there are a lot of genuinely nice people out there, willing to help a total stranger."

Scheidies and Van Praet will each have a guide tethered to them on the swim and run then share a tandem bike on the cycling portion.

"It took some getting used to at first," Scheidies said. "But now it is kind of fun. It makes a triathlon, a solo sport, sort of a team sport because you do everything together."

Role models

Van Praet's eyesight has deteriorated enough that he has to use a white cane.

"It is funny, but some people think because (Aaron and I) race with a guide, we are somehow cheating," he said. "But I can tell you there is no advantage not being able to see."

Scheidies said he has had a few laughs over the years. "I heard one person say, 'Look at those two convicts. … They are tied together,' " he recalled.

But both men said they don't swim, bike and run to prove a point.

"This is what I love to do," Van Praet said. "I am not a big fan of excuses. You adapt, you change, you figure out a way to move ahead, then you do it."

Scheidies, who crashed recently on his bike during a triathlon in Jamaica, will compete despite an injured hip.

"I didn't get into the sport to be an inspiration," he said. "I'm just living my life. But a leader is somebody who leads by example. I think if you have a good attitude, others will be drawn to you and follow your lead."

Terry Tomalin can be reached at tomalin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8808.

Fast facts

Ironman World Championship 70.3*

Who: More than 1,500 of the world's top endurance athletes will swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles in less than 7½ hours.

When/where: Saturday;

Clearwater

To learn more, go to ironman.com/worldchampionship70.3.

* The name comes from the combined distances of all three events.

Positive attitudes help two visually impaired triathletes race on 11/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Bryan Harper's path to the majors, where his brother is a star, has been bumpy

    The Heater

    He has thrown 215 professional innings over 168 minor-league outings, and at various points the kid from Las Vegas has called Viera and Hagerstown, Md., and Harrisburg, Pa. and Syracuse, N.Y., and even Arlington, Va. home. During that summer he lived in the D.C. suburbs, he would rise some mornings with his brother in …

  2. Blake Snell steps up, but Rays lose to Orioles anyway (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell stepped up when he had to Monday and delivered an impressive career-high seven-plus innings for the Rays. That it wasn't enough in what ended up a 5-0 loss to the Orioles that was their season-high fifth straight is symptomatic of the mess they are in right now.

    Tim Beckham stands hands on hips after being doubled off first.
  3. Rays vs. Orioles, 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Orioles

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

  4. Rays journal: Sergio Romo excited for fresh start in AL

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — RHP Sergio Romo was about to play catch with LHP Adam Kolarek before Monday's batting practice when he paused.

    RAMOS EXITS: Rays catcher Wilson Ramos clutches his head after being beaned by Ruben Tejada’s broken bat in the fifth inning. Ramos leaves the game and receives six staples to close a laceration on his head.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Monday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    LHP Blake Snell stepped up when the Rays needed him to — and perhaps when he had to to keep his job — working a season-high seven plus innings. And it wasn't only that he got deep into the game, but how he did so, using his fastball to pound the strike zone.