Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Paths of perseverance

December 2, 2002
Kinesiology junior Aaron Scheidies holds his award and wears his medal from the International Triathlon Union World Championship in Cancun, Mexico, where he competed against 38 other athletes in his division. Schiedies, who is legally blind, has been in track since high school but never thought that he would ever be in a world championship. —

Aaron Scheidies is probably the only world champion preparing for finals this week at MSU.

A month ago, the kinesiology junior flew to Cancun, Mexico, to compete in the athletes with disabilities category of the International Triathlon Union World Championship. With guide Matt West, a former varsity runner at Eastern Michigan, Scheidies beat the four other teams in the blind male division to win the championship.

"I don't want my vision to hold me back," said Scheidies, who is legally blind. "People with disabilities usually have the attitude that they're going to fight through this or they just get depressed. I just want to challenge myself."

Scheidies has macular degeneration, a disease that began weakening his eyesight in the second grade and has continually grown worse. His vision is now 20/400, meaning he can see something clearly at 20 feet that people with perfect vision can see at 400.

For example, when a person is walking toward him from about 55 feet away, all Scheidies can see is a moving dark blob. He recognizes people he knows by their voices.

But the disease hasn't stopped Scheidies from competing in triathlons, which are made up of legs of swimming, biking and running. Even though he and West are now considered the best blind-sighted triathlete team in the world, Scheidies usually races and beats people without disabilities. He's also president of MSU's Triathlon Club.

Scheidies was required to compete with a guide at the World Championships, but he's never before needed the extra pair of eyes. At other races, he would watch fellow athletes to stay on course and would scope out the bike and run trails before the race to remember potholes and turns. And he still would win.

"Aaron can do these on his own," West said. "USA Triathlon just made him have a guide. But he knows what he's doing. He has such a go-get-'em-type attitude."

In Cancun, the biggest challenge wasn't his eyesight, the flat course or racing in the ocean for the first time - it was the 95-degree heat, extra humidity and Scheidies' sore hip from extra training.

As a result, Scheidies and West, who met competing at local races, finished in 2:24.16, about 15 minutes slower than their average. But they not only won the blind male division, they also placed second among all disabled male teams.

"It was so unbelievable to see people with only one leg or one arm, to see how they do it," Scheidies said. "It's unbelievable to see someone who's totally blind do that."

During the opening one-mile swim, Scheidies said the large waves created a little trouble. From there, the team went into the transition for the bike leg.

Transitions can make or break a race, and both athletes said it was difficult to adjust their routines to work together.

"Aaron is a faster transitioner than me," West said. "But I'm seven years older, so I think that's allowed."

In the 24.8-mile bike race, the two rode on a tandem bike, a new experience for both athletes. But after months of practicing riding and turning together, the team had no problem handling the course and its hairpin turns, Scheidies said.

By the final leg, the 6.2-mile run, Scheidies and West had broken away from the closest competitors. They crossed the finish line first by nearly 10 minutes.

"We were the most tired we've ever been," West said.

Scheidies celebrated his win with his family at Señor Frog's, a Cancun staple. And on Friday, he received his first-place award, a plaque carved out of stone from Aztec ruins.

The whole trip was made possible by a few sponsors - Balance Bar, EIFirst.com, Running Fit and Mail Boxes Etc. In return for that money, Scheidies is now an encouragement to all athletes - disabled or not, West said.

"Aaron, he's truly an inspiration to the athletic world," West said. "He's been given very little, and he goes and wins a world championship."

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