Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"But She'll Look Sweet, Upon the Seat of a bicycle Built for Two."

An integral part of training for a triathlon is making sure that you have all of the equipment you will need to be successful. For most athletes that isn't too hard, a good pair of running shoes, a decent road bike and maybe a wet suit, but for disabled triathletes especially blind ones, things are a bit more complicated.
We still need the good shoes and maybe the wet suit, but we can't use a regular road bike and if we are going to train outside, we need a guide. Yes guides are people, not quite considered equipment,  but they are pretty important. Guides tether their wrists to their blind athletes during the run portion via a bungie cord or rope; another tether is used during the swim that runs from the guides behind to the blind athlete's, somehow attached by the wet suits; and during the forty kilometre bike ride, they "pilot" a tandem bike, or more commonly known as a bicycle built for two. The tandem bikes that they have out now though aren't pretty, touring bikes, but light weight, fibre glass, racing machines. The guide sit in the front saddle-AKA front seat-and steers, brakes, gives the blind cyclist verbal feedback about the terrain and generally assists with keeping the bike balanced. Many totally blind people, like me, do not know how to balance a bike properly and therefore could not keep it upright on his/her own. That said, that does not apply to every totally blind person.
These tandem bikes that I need so badly for training and racing are not easy to get a hold of. First of all, we need one for training because when race day comes and e have been only on a stationary bike in the gym, we could run into a few problems. Both the guide and I wouldn't know each other's body language and this could cause crashes. The guide might not know how much verbal information I need; I may not know how much verbal information I need. Holding up a tandem bike is way different than a one person road bike or a stationary and it is really important for the team to learn how to work together in order to have the best success. As I've said though, tandems are difficult to acquire.
The most obvious difficulty is that they are not just available anywhere. You couldn't walk into a sports store or a bike shop and buy one. They are designed for a very specific population and/or purpose and so aren't just out there for the general public to buy. The store wouldn't make any money. The people who buy the tandem bike are usually either blind athletes, blind recreational cyclists, facilities where there are a large gathering of blind people at once-I.E. a summer camp run for blind people, a school for the blind, a rehabilitation training centre for blind people Etc-or tourist attraction companies. So, where the crap do you go to get one?
Have I mentioned the price tag? One of the racing tandem bikes is currently offered to members of Won With 1 for a discounted rate of less than 2000 dollars. You will not get a racing bike for that cheap anywhere. There are two problems for me with this.
1. I'm not a member of Won with 1 because I am moving to Scotland and they are a Canadian based organisation. I've been given a lot of support from this organisation, but I am not a member.
2. If I buy the bike in Canada how do I get it to Scotland? Very expensive shipping costs.
and 3. I definitely do not have 2 grand just lying around.
I contacted the Triathlon club that Mr. K and I will be joining upon our arrival in Edinburgh and asked if they could put feelers out to see what the likelihood of me borrowing a tandem from someone would be. It took the woman I have been corresponding with, we'll call her F, a few days, but she got back to me this morning and the news was much better than I thought. She gave me the websites of two different organisations, The Royal School for the Blind and another organisation that actually gets tandem bikes for disabled people. F also told me that one of the guides I was in contact had one, which I already knew but wasn't sure how often I would have access to it. There is another team member who has one set up as a "trainer," which I am not entirely sure what that means, but I'll find out. F said that I should contact the Royal School for the Blind as they may loan me one and/or the other organisation may be able to get me one. I'm just so amazed that something like this is actually available. The greatest hurdle with competitive sport for a blind athlete is cost. We have to pay for everything twice because we need our guides with us. Two airplane tickets, two meals every time you eat, two hotel rooms if your guide happens to be of the opposite sex-that has happened to me a few times-sometimes two entry fees, it really could go on and on. I'm sure things will be similar with triathlon with some costs being different, but nonetheless it is going to be expensive once I reach the competitive level that I want to. So, if there some way for things to be cheaper, or easier I am always incredibly grateful. I really appreciate F's effort in finding these organisations and I am even more excited about training knowing that if I can get in contact with the right people, I may actually have a bike to train and race on. Everything with regards to my triathlon training in Scotland is coming together beautifully and I couldn't be happier. The attitudes of the club has been amazing and even the governing body of Triathlon in Scotland has been great. This is encouraging and motivates me to train even harder here at home on my lovely elliptical so that I can really start training once Mr. K and I get there.


Jen said...

I hate how tandems are so expensive. I have a really old one but its very heavy and not good for cycling on our disastrous roads. I would love a new one but find it hard to find somebody who would regularly cycle with me.
I always wondered is it hard to run with someone guiding you? Do you notice the rope attaching you and do you not constantly think it might come undone? and what happens if it does? Just curious!

Jess and Glacier said...

Jen: I have an old tandem bike too and it's definitely not race worthy. Plus, I can't bring it to Scotland...way too expensive. And finding someone to regularly bike with is a pain in the bum. So, I feel your pain. LOL
The tether is run from the guide's hand and/or wrist to the blind athlete's hand/wrist n a figure eight pattern. The blind athlete can hold on to the tether to ensure nothing comes undone. Some runners run with their arm kind of interlocked with their guide's as well if they need more body language cues and for more stability. The guide's arm is bent at the elbow at a 90 degree angle to the ground as is the blind athlete's. The blind athlete places their forearm/wrist running along the guide's and they clasp hands or the blind athlete grabs onto the guide's wrist depending on how much longer the guide's arm is in comparison to the blind athlete's...whoa I think that was a run-on sentence. If that makes sense. That is good for recreational/leisure running, but if you want speed, the tether is better because it allows both athletes to move their arms with their steps-this arm movement propels them along. Now, I'm telling you all of this and I am not a good runner, but it's what I've picked up from various runner friends. If you want to check out a Paralympic runner's blog go to:


He actually is originally from Ireland, but moved to Canada when he was 13. He's a good friend and an inspiration to me.

pattib said...

Another source to consider in finding a tandem and/or partner to ride with are bicycling clubs. In my younger days I actually raced on a tandem (in 24 hour and multiple day events) with another woman. Our tandem was specially made because we are both short! We raced in France's "Paris-Brest-Paris" event in 1987. Anyway, there are many clubs that have tandem-teams. It might be worth trying to find a club in Scotland...good luck!

L^2 said...

Good luck! I really hope you are able to find a good tandem bike you can borrow to train and race on to save yourselves so money.
As I think you know, I've run into same the problem of finding a tandem bike. My Sister and I just want one for recreational riding, but we can't even find one we could borrow to see if we'd actually like it. And if we do like it; there's no way we could actually afford to buy a new one anyway.

Jess and Glacier said...

Patty: What a good idea. Thanks. :) You are a woman of many talents.
L: I know! It's irritating. As I said on your blog, I wish there was some way to get my old tandem to you. You could just have it and it would be a good touring bike. It's old, but I put some new tune-up type things on it about a year or so ago. It's not in perfect condition, but it would work for you and your sister.

L^2 said...

Yeah, I would love to have your old tandem, but I don't know how we would get it here either. I think it would probably be pretty expensive to mail or ship it here. And right now I don't know of anyone in your area who is planning to drive to my area who could bring it along with them. :(