I thought it would be good to include a post
by Cheryl Chichak, the woman responsible for my journey to becoming an Ironman Triathlete.
Cheryl is my friend and has been my guide in several triathlon races. Below is
her experience as a guide.
My journey guiding Diane started with lane swimming.
Diane and I would go to her local pool, where the lifeguard would clear out a
lane for us. I swam beside Diane, about half a body length ahead. When I was one
stroke from the end of the pool, I would reach over and tap Diane wherever my
hand landed, personal boundaries be damned. From time to time, I was too slow
to make contact, and would panic and grab whatever part of Diane I could reach.
Once or twice, I actually grabbed her swimsuit and dragged her to a stop. In
those days, I was frantic about Diane running into the wall. This is likely because
the very first time we went swimming, Diane smacked her face on a wall-mounted
shoe rack in the change room.
Diane and I proceeded to spend the next few
years swimming in lakes, touring on Diane’s tandem bike and doing triathlons.
We’ve laughed until we almost drowned, pedalled past a grizzly bear and been
lost more times than I care to admit. Through all this, one of the most
important lessons Diane taught me was what she calls, “the dignity of risk.”
Just as I can make decisions as an adult that
could put me at risk, such as riding a bicycle on the highway or swimming out
to the middle of a lake, so can Diane. Her so-called disability does not prevent
Diane from experiencing life outside her comfort zone, pushing herself to her
limits and exposing herself to all the risks those challenges entail. Risk is
how we grow. Of course, adaptations should be made to ensure Diane is as safe
as a sighted person would be, but in the end, she is choosing to do this.
I think it’s hard for sighted people to
imagine life without sight. If we close our eyes, we are helpless; therefore,
we assume people with sight loss are helpless. But another thing I’ve learned
from guiding Diane is that there are other ways to see.
My favourite story about Diane is a perfect
example of this. We were on a bike tour, and we came to a corner with a sign
that had an arrow pointing left. As we turned left, we passed a couple of
cyclists stopped on the side of the road, chatting amongst themselves. This is
a common occurrence on a recreational bike tour, and I thought nothing of it. I
certainly didn’t pay any attention to their conversation.
“Those guys we just
passed were talking about going right," Diane said. "I think they
were saying that this was the wrong way.”
“Nope, can’t be. The
sign said to turn left,” I said with confidence. Fifteen minutes later, I
realized we had, indeed, gone the wrong way. To make matters worse, we now had
to ride back up a massive hill I had taken us down. The sign I saw was wrong;
the information Diane heard was correct.
The larger lesson in all this, of course, is
that people with disabilities are not less capable. While it's politically
correct to say, it took the personal experience of guiding Diane for me to
understand what that looks like in daily life. Diane has a different- but
effective - way of navigating her environment. She makes choices to participate
in activities that scare her. She sets goals for herself and achieves them. In
other words, she is just like a lot of other driven people I know. She just
also happens to be blind.
Diane is a proud member of The Tandem Project and Won with One Triathlon team. For more information, go to www.thetandemproject.org. Questions? Comments? Email Diane at firstname.lastname@example.org