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The rantings and ravings of a blind Ironman 

How I got to Ironman Kona a Blind Athlete's journey and thank you.

By Steve Walker

 

Surfers call it the perfect wave. The search for that moment, when the water, your spirit, and the location all add up to be in perfect harmony. For triathletes we too are looking for perfection. We are looking for the perfect race. Where training, fitness level, race location and speed all come into play on a perfect day when it matters. The big question that every triathlete asks themselves is how do I create the perfect race? Where is the perfect race for me? How do I achieve it? 

 

For me the answer to one of those questions has always been right in front of me. I have always known where the perfect race was for me. Ironman Kona. It is plain and simple my Everest. Like the climbers called to the summit of the highest peak pulled by a power greater then they can describe, I have been called to the island of Kona. I’ve watched every Ironman special that has ever aired. When I started to daydream of bucket list items as an adult, Kona was always on the top of the list of must do. I didn’t know how I would get there, but I knew I must. 

Like any quest that has been predestined, the universe lined up all the stars for me. Ironman PR who I worked with in the past hooked me up with NBC to get into the race, suddenly I was going warp speed in planning to make this race happen. Deep in the back of my mind, I wondered how I was to pull all of this together in less then five months. I kept thinking of the Paulo Cohelo quote

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back”
— Paulo Cohelo

 The challenge had been extended and I said yes! 

    Now that the perfect race location had made itself available to me, I needed the perfect guide. My first choice for a guide for Kona was my friend and pro triathlete Chris Foster. There are so many reasons why it was important to me to race with him, but the main reasons were; one, he doesn’t treat me like I am blind. When we're out on a course racing, we are just two friends racing together who happen to be tied together. He doesn’t coddle me, if going through tree branches is going to get us to the finish line faster, then we are eating leaves. He doesn’t worry about me being delicate, and when I'm being completely honest, the feeling of being treated like I'm normal which is the feeling that he gives me, is really what makes him irreplaceable to me. Second he alone as an athlete is a beast on the course. Period. He is laid back and humble in real life, but when that cannon goes off, he clicks into a different gear. Full Ironman distance isn’t his normal distance, so it took some explaining that he would be a beast on the long course as well but I finally convinced him. The final reason was he and his wife are so fun and pleasant to be around I didn’t want to travel with my family to Hawaii without them. As soon as Chris signed on, I knew the race had just clicked in another essential component to success. 

    The perfect location and perfect guide were in place, it was time to find the right training tools. I had an established relationship with Xterra wetsuits. They had provided me with my first wetsuit ever when I started racing as a CAF Operation Rebound athlete. I reached out to them to help me with wetsuit apparel and they came through big time, they sent me right away all the gear my guide and I would need for the race. My wife’s cousin works for Monster Energy drink. While we were are a family reunion, we were talking about training and recovery and she mentioned that Monster had gotten into the Endurance field with a drink called Muscle Monster. She thought it would be a good pairing for us to team up, and so Muscle Monster jumped in my corner. I am a vegetarian, so getting protein is always a concern of mine, and adding the drink in my life with 25 grams of protein per drink was a game changer. 

Since I don’t drive, it isn’t easy for me to get out and train. Getting in a good swim, bike and run can be difficult if the right tools aren't available. My wife bought me a treadmill, so that I could do my runs at home. I also am blessed to have a pool in my backyard. I couldn't do any real lap swimming in my 30 foot pool, by the time I would take two strokes it was time to flip around again, so we reached out to Endless Pools. I’m so amazed by their company, because I’m trying to put myself in their shoes. A random athlete reaches out to them, no mutual connections, and asked for sponsorship. They replied back immediately with friendliness and enthusiasm to come on board. Since installing the pool, I have been able to swim everyday,at the time of day that works best for me, and I feel stronger. Even though I am in a pool, it feels more like an open water swim, because I never have to stop and turn around. Plus there is a feeling of a current in your face, just like in the ocean. It is helping my confidence for Kona. I am excited to see over a long period the difference having the Endless Pool will make to my racing. I think it will be substantial!

Computrainer was another company that was happy to join #teamstevewalkerracing. They sent my guide and myself a trainer, and we were off to the races. The cool part about Computrainer is that it simulates courses and I never have to leave my backyard in order to train. Like I said before, without a guide I can’t go on road rides, and to be able to get on the back of the tandem and recreate a race course that I am training for makes a BIG difference. 

My dream came true, I wake up in the morning and hop into the pool to swim. I get out and get on the bike to do a course and while my legs are warmed up, I am able to get on the treadmill to run. The Endless Pool, the Computrainer, and the treadmill have now become pieces of adaptive equipment for a blind guy. Take a look at my setup:

Backyard setup.jpg

Challenged Athletes Foundation has been in my corner since day one. Being apart of the Operation Rebound community has lead me to meet many fellow military athletes that push me to be the best athlete I can be. USMES is another organization, that has embraced me with open arms. I do have to say that there is a lot of support for wounded and disabled veterans. If you re a veteran who is looking to get into sports and don’t know where to start, please email me and I will point you in the right direction. There really is support out there to get rehabilitation through sports activity. The Triathlon Lab is run by a former pro athlete and their enthusiasm for the sport of triathlon is evident from the second you walk into their shop. Lloyd the owner is kind and generous and supportive to me as an athlete. It helps that he has been in the triathletes shoes before so he intuitively knows what we need. I am grateful to have a local shop back me and be such an important part of our community. One Stop Geek, helps me with all the technical aspects of racing. There is a lot of technology that keeps the athlete on the cutting edge of getting results, but having no eyesight doesn’t make it easy to set up. JR the owner helps me get the most out of my equipment. He also helps me change over logos to vector files so that I can get different logos on my kit. He supports me and gives me his time when I need it, and I appreciate him very much. Champion Systems made my kit for Kona. It’s not easy getting design ideas from a blind guy, but they came through and made me a beautiful kit. My helmet will be sporting the Muscle Monster logo and that was painted and done by triathlete and artist Janie Pearson at Revolutionary Ink, she took two stock Giro helmets and made them into custom pieces of art.Last but not lease Endurance Agency is my agent Berk Boge. To say no one was interested in representing a blind athlete is an understatement, but not Berk. He has treated me like I was Kobe Bryant and worked to help make my road to Kona as effortless as possible. Thank you Berk. Here is a peek at the jersey with everyone mentioned above on my kit for Kona

If you are reading this Thank you! It means a lot to me to have your support. Every athlete has a great story to tell as to why they are out there and racing, so thank you for listening to mine. As we get closer to the race (less then two weeks!) I am trying to stay in a place of gratitude and appreciation. I already became an Ironman, but this time around I think it will be just as sweet. This time around, I did it with a team, each person who came forward to support me became part of my story, a story that I dreamt of long before I knew how it would happen. When Mike Reilly say on Saturday October 10th “Steve Walker YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” it will be a team success not that of an individual. 

 

**I wrote this on the pretense that if you are reading this you know that I am legally blind. If not I am legally blind. I have Retinitis Pigmentosa which was found when I was in the Marine Corps in 2001. I have 5% of my vision remaining and plan to see as much as I can see until it is gone. If you have any further questions please email me at stevewalkerjr@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open letter of thanks to my Ironman supporters

And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." - Paulo Coelho

 

The Ironman was just an idea; it was something I had watched on TV and said I wanted to attempt one day.  Going blind isn't easy, but what's harder is figuring out how to redefine your purpose.  For me, my new purpose was getting comfortable being uncomfortable.  A great way to be uncomfortable is to plan on finishing a race that lasts 140.6 miles.  At the beginning of January 2013 that's what I wanted.  You are guilty of being a co-conspirator.  As you may already know, my Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico was a 2.4 mile ocean swim followed by a 112 mile bike course, finished by a marathon (26.2 miles).

 

I must admit that the whole idea of it is a little crazy.  Why would someone want to swim, bike, and run for that many miles?  I can't intelligently explain why I was drawn to it as a young teenager; it's just one of those things that you hear about or see and you connect to it.

 

As we (me, Kacey, & Jordan) started our way down this triathlon journey I was expecting the usual things to come along.  However, I was not expecting all the support I received from family, friends, and strangers who became friends.  I also had huge support from The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) and The U.S. Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) and The Independence Fund. 

 

This race was a 23 month journey.  Almost everyday I would remind myself of what my purpose was.  I watched as many archived races on Youtube as possible.  I picked the brains of as many people as I could find who had finished an Ironman, and I trained.  I went swimming in an outdoor pool when it was cold and raining, I rode my tandem up and down the hills of Palos Verdes, and I ran until my iPod was dead.  The actual race was difficult.  I had my best swim ever that day, finishing the swim in 1 hour and 22 minutes.  My bike was 'just okay'.  It was enough to not have to rush during the marathon, but due to a strong head-wind on one side of the island, my strongest leg of the race was neutralized.  The marathon was a blur, my body as a whole was strong, but my stomach had trouble holding the calories I needed to stay energized.  My guide Carl Feld and I finished the race roughly thirty minutes before midnight.  

 

They say that the triathlon is an individual sport.  That notion is the furtherest from the truth from my experience.  Some people donated money to purchase crucial gear, others put me in contact with the right people and organizations, I had volunteers help me with my training and racing, yelling fans wake up way to early to see me race, and I had CAF in my corner as my biggest supporter.   I feel I'll be inadequate in saying that each of you were so crucial during my journey.  I couldn't be more grateful in saying that you and I share in the accomplishment of becoming an Ironman on November 30, 2014.