A wide shot of the Andes Mountains with a snow covered Mt. Ausangate in the center. The 2020 team of eleven are hiking in the foreground on a beautiful day.

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Olympic gold is a swimming success for Michael Phelps and other blind swimmers!
11 Jan
By 2020
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By Randy Pierce

I know what you’re thinking. “Wait a second, Randy, Michael Phelps isn’t blind!” That’s mostly true but not entirely–he did win the 200-meter butterfly while being effectively rendered blind. Feel free to explore one version of the inspiring tale thanks to Kris Heap in “The Day Michael Phelps Went Blind.”

While I certainly hope hiking remains a well enjoyed part of my life, I’ve added a few new goals for our 2020 Vision Quest efforts. As part of the process, I’ve been increasing my training at the YMCA of Nashua to include a healthy amount of treadmill, standing cycle, and now swimming. I’ve had a little bit of experience with running and cycling (tandem), but swimming in pool lanes is entirely new to me. There’s a host of inspirational sources for me from my wife Tracy’s triathalon work to fellow blind athlete Amy Dixon’s efforts in the pool. I was surprised when a little internet research for tips and tricks of swimming blind showcased Brad Snyder winning gold medals in the paralympics merely one year after an explosion rendered the navy lieutenant totally blind.

Some of the more immediate challenges involve being able to keep to a reasonably straight line. This is important to avoid collisions with other lane swimmers and the lane dividers, and obviously for efficiency. A far more dangerous reality is awareness of the approaching wall for the turnaround which can injure a hand or head that unknowingly reaches the side before anticipated.

Some of the lesser challenges of form correction will bring about plenty of future work, but as in all things my first goal is establishing some reasonable safety. It was clear to me quickly this was going to be a slow and time-consuming process if I wanted to become effective and successful. While trying an array of techniques for letting my arm or shoulder graze the lane guide, I counted strokes in the hope of predicting the wall. Tracy worked ahead of me to verbally warn and intercede as necessary along the way. My desire to keep as much ear freedom for sound led to some woeful head technique and a tremendous amount of excessive effort. This was fantastic for conditioning work and for the humbling discoveries of a novice! I’m enthused and eager to learn and improve in this latest endeavor.  I will, however, save my problem-solving interests and discoveries for a future post.

I prefer to spend less time looking back for a couple of obvious reasons. In looking ahead to the promise of potential, I certainly will take a great deal of encouragement from the Michael Phelps story. When perhaps the greatest swimmer of our time was in an Olympic race and suddenly found his goggles filling with water and blinding him, he didn’t miss a stroke. Instead, he used a variety of skills he’d cultivated by deliberately including blind swimming into his training repertoire. The result was not only a gold medal but a new world record. It’s yet another demonstration of our tagline: “Achieve a Vision Beyond Your Sight!”

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