A Federationist and an Ironman

Posted by Randi Strunk | 10/06/2018 | Sports and Fitness
Randi and Caroline running through the finisher's shoot of Ironman Texas this year, holding hands with their arms raised in celebration.

As a kid, I always loved sports. My younger brother and I were always hitting the game-winning shots in our backyard.

But the older I got, particularly in the later elementary and junior high years, I began to tell myself that I would never be an athlete. In junior high volleyball and basketball, I went to every practice, but when it came to games I was on the last string. After years of practices with nothing to show for it, I had no confidence, and I decided to just stop working out until well after college.

I have been legally blind since birth, but I didn’t think to blame my failures on my blindness because nobody ever told me I couldn’t play. This was a blessing in its own right, but I also didn’t have any activities that were adapted such that I would have as great a chance to succeed as my peers.

As a result, I internalized my lack of athletic ability to be a “me” problem, not a blindness problem.

As often happens when we get older, and get those first jobs out of college, which was a desk job for me, I began to put on weight. But somewhere inside I still really loved sports just like I did when I was a kid. I knew there had to be something I could do to get into shape, however I wasn’t sure what that might be. But I had to start somewhere.

I began to do weight training with a personal trainer so I could properly learn lifting form. Then I took a class on running form, which was also my first time ever running with a guide. I also joined a gym with a small group and individual session model. This was great for building my confidence as all I had to do was worry about performing lifts correctly, and I always had someone there to correct my form if needed. I liked lifting and getting stronger - it helped to give me a new confidence in myself.

However, my pivotal moment came between sets of back squats one day when my friend and trainer said to me, “Hey, since you’re competitive, I think you might like triathlons.”

I didn’t even know what a triathlon was, let alone how I was supposed to do one as a blind person. So as any good 30-something does, I turned to Google and read every article I could find on blind people doing triathlons.

Instantly, I loved the idea and enlisted my friend as my guide. It was her idea after all!

We trained for six months, which included literally learning to swim, bike training, and run training. And in September of 2015, I did my first race, an Olympic distance triathlon consisting of a one-mile swim, a twenty-five-mile bike ride, and a 6.1 mile run. Though it was the hardest physical thing I had ever done, I was hooked!

Since that time, I’ve gone on to do a marathon and eight additional triathlons ranging from sprint triathlons of about fifteen to eighteen miles total, to a full Ironman triathlon which is 140.6 total miles of swimming, biking, and running. It was an accomplishment that even a few months before the race I wasn’t totally sure I could complete successfully, but I had my paratriathlon community to give me confidence and support along the way.

In paratriathlon training, I found a community of like-minded athletes who care about advancing the sport and each other. I found something that challenges me physically and mentally to reach places I thought impossible, and I found a sport that has given so much to me that I don’t know if I can ever give enough back, but I’m willing to try.

That’s also how I feel about the National Federation of the Blind.

I found the NFB before I found triathlon. I had blind role models in the Federation before I had my personal trainer talking me into racing. I had fellow Federationists who believed in me until I could believe in myself and see my own potential as a blind person. Without my Federation family, I don’t think I would have had the confidence in myself to find my triathlon family.

The National Federation of the Blind is a group of like-minded individuals who want to advance their cause and the lives of blind people everywhere, an organization that challenges us and our expectations of ourselves and each other, and an organization that has often given us so much, that it’s impossible to give as much back, but we want to try. My Federation family wants me to live the life I want, and I’m doing that through being in the National Federation of the Blind and by participating in triathlon. I’m doing that by being a Federationist and an Ironman.

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