Imagine swimming, cycling and running a course without being able to see anything ahead of you, completely placing your trust in another set of eyes to guide you along the route. Blind athlete Alison Mead has not let her loss of sight prevent her from taking part in triathlon, with the help of her guide Roz McGinty.
Alison lost her sight in 2005 after a brain haemorrhage which caused four strokes. Before losing her sight, Alison enjoyed sport, particularly table tennis, badminton and cycling. She had had qualified as a preliminary swimming teacher and also ran occasionally.
Determined to keep active and maintain her fitness, Alison contacted the British Triathlon Federation for help with getting back into sport. She was introduced to Roz McGinty, a GB age group long course triathlete in July 2014. Roz had some experience in water-handling for para-triathletes, but guiding a visually impaired athlete was new territory. Together they ventured out onto a local trail to get used to running as a pair. Alison says: “I’m extremely grateful that Roz agreed to meet me and give it a go. I’m so glad we got on well from the start, it was possible that it wouldn’t work for one or both of us, but I think we work well together”.
The first event they did together was St Albans parkrun, as Roz felt that Alison would benefit from the camaraderie of like-minded people. They both found it a very rewarding experience and Alison has since gone on to run or volunteer every Saturday morning for the past year!
A sprint triathlon organised by Hercules Events was their next big challenge. Alison says “I guess I got hooked straight away, triple the fun. What’s not to love about a sport that makes you physically and mentally stronger, is great fun and surrounds you with great people?”
When they swim together, Alison gently taps the pool side or lane rope with one hand whilst Roz swims alongside talking to her to let her know how far until the end of the pool. They did one open-water swim in which they were tethered to a tow-float. Alison finds the swim the most challenging of the three disciplines, although she enjoys swimming, it can be unnerving to be in the water without seeing what is ahead.
For cycling, Alison and Roz ride a tandem although training on busy open-roads can be daunting, so the pair are looking into the possibility of riding at the VeloPark. Alison says: “I guess tandem riding is easier for me than it is for Roz, as I only have to pedal and enjoy myself. I have a medal winning GB triathlete/ironman in control and I’m getting the chance to have a great time”.
They run using a small elasticated tether or if the terrain is uneven Alison will hold Roz’s elbow as she describes the course and the direction they need to take.
After their successful triathlon, Alison and Roz looked for another new challenge which came in the form of an obstacle course race. They took part in the Commando Series at Hever Castle last November. Alison was not phased by the tough course and climbed, crawled and scrambled her way around 15 gruelling obstacles with the guidance of Roz.
Alison continues to challenge herself and plans to run a 10k, a 10 miler and another duathlon or triathlon, as well as regular parkruns. The experience of guiding is incredibly rewarding for Roz and she tries to help Alison as often as possible, alongside her own training. Roz says: “I know what it feels like from first-hand experience not to be able to train and how miserable that makes me feel, that is why I was so keen to help Alison. Even if I have to give up on some of my training it is a small price to pay when I can see the difference that it makes to Alison.”
If you are interested in volunteering as a guide please contact Paratri Coordinator Donna Dewick