In our continuing series, Pushing the Limits, we focus on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In this installment, we look at an athletic feat that is both inspirational and incredible.
Caroline Gaynor was all smiles as she helped blind athlete Randi Strunk complete the Texas Ironman Triathlon last spring.
“I love incredibly long endurance challenges,” Gaynor said. “But to me, the motivating factor is: I love guiding blind and visually impaired athletes. That’s the thing that keeps me training every day.”
While she was swimming, biking and running with Strunk, Gaynor’s future teammates were nearly a thousand miles away training for an even more rigorous competition. Team Sea to See — four tandem bikes and eight athletes, four of them blind — was getting ready for the Race Across America, a cycling challenge from the West Coast to the East.
The team was the concept of two visually impaired athletes, Jack Chen and Dan Berlin.
“We both feel like we wanted to demonstrate to the world that people who are blind can be extraordinarily successful,” Chen said. “Because that message just does not get out enough.”
Chen and Gaynor were one of the four tandem teams, riding together for the first time just a month before the big race. Gaynor, who works with financial advisors in her day job, sits up front and is the pilot. Chen, a father of two and a lawyer at Google, sits in back and is known as “the stoker.”
“It’s just going to work,” Chen said.
“I trust and believe that Jack and I can make this work,” Gaynor said. “My goal is to keep whatever cadence Jack prefers.”
On a chilly June morning in Oceanside, California, it was time to race — and time for Team Sea to See to face challenges beyond their imaginations.
“It’s learning the lessons and overcoming those insane obstacles that really make you more resilient in life, generally,” Gaynor said. “So, I’m excited to get past the dark times.”
“It’s a real test of what your ability is to go beyond your own boundaries,” Chen said.
The race is more than 3,000 miles, challenging riders with changing terrains and weather from California to Annapolis, Maryland. Gaynor documented the obstacles and triumphs on Facebook along the way.
“Jack and I just finished a ride in Colorado,” Gaynor said in one of her videos from the trip. “Jack how are you feeling?”
“I feel much better. I feel good,” Chen responded.
Near the end of the race, in West Virginia, torrential rains forced Gaynor and Chen to carry their bike through floodwaters at night. But in the end, seven days, 15 hours and three minutes after they began, Team Sea to See crossed the finish line, where an emotional and exhausted Gaynor fell into her husband’s waiting arms.
“Any race that essentially almost breaks me is one that I think is worth doing,” Gaynor said. “Because that’s how you grow.”
The visually impaired athletes want their accomplishment to send a message: that visually impaired people are capable.
They point to the fact that less than 30 percent of the visually impaired are fully employed as proof that there’s work to be done to get the message out.
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