Aaron Scheidies, who is blind and will compete in this weekend's JAL Triathlon, shared his experiences with students at Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind.

Inspiring minds

Aaron Scheidies hopes
his story encourages others

THE students who were gathered in the cafeteria of the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind yesterday may never see his face or hear his voice, but as an accomplished triathlete, Aaron Scheidies hopes the youngsters can find inspiration in his story.

A rare degenerative condition gradually robbed Scheidies of his sight as a youth, but he hasn't let blindness slow him down. Instead, he has competed in more than 60 triathlons over the last five years, and visited HCDB yesterday to share his account of overcoming a physical obstacle.

"I went through the same struggles as them and I know what it's like," the 22-year-old Scheidies said before addressing the group. "I'm not just somebody telling them, 'You can do it, you can do it.' I've done it. I know what it's like."

Scheidies is in town this week to take part in the JAL Honolulu Triathlon on Sunday.

Scheidies, who grew up in Farmington, Mich., participates in triathlons with the aid of a guide and will have 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams and military champion Tim O'Donnell assisting him through Sunday's race. Williams will guide Scheidies through the one-mile swim and 25-mile bike portion of the race, with O'Donnell alongside him for the 6-mile run.

Triathlete Aaron Scheidies explained to Wesley Homewood how he competes in triathlon events yesterday at Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind.

Scheidies' best time on an Olympic-style course is 2 hours, 4 minutes, and he'll be shooting to finish in that range on Sunday.

"I was telling someone today I hope I don't let him down or slow him down," said Williams, who will also be among the elite athletes competing in the JAL International Triathlon Union World Cup on Saturday.

Scheidies was diagnosed with Stargardt's disease by doctors at the University of Michigan as a child. He still has peripheral vision, but the degenerative condition has resulted in the loss of his central sight.

While his vision worsened with age, Scheidies competed in youth sports and was especially fond of soccer. But by the time he reached middle school, he wasn't able to track the ball and had to drop out of the sport.

Scheidies battled through bouts of depression as a teen until he returned to athletics, joining the swimming, cross country, and track and field teams at Farmington High School.

"I went through times when I was like, 'Why me?' and got depressed," he said. "Finally one day I said, 'I'm sick of this. I can't live my whole life just hating every day.' I told myself I'm going to go out there with a positive attitude and give everything I have every day."

Scheidies was intrigued by the challenge of triathlons in high school and has been hooked ever since.

"I'm a very competitive person and with my visual impairment sometimes I've had feelings that it holds me back," he said. "I've always wanted to be normal, I wanted to be just like anybody else, and stay independent. Triathlon was a great way to challenge myself."

As Scheidies progressed as a triathlete, finding guides able to keep up with him became a problem. Trust and communication with his guides are vital to Scheidies' ability to participate in races and he has partnered with Matt West, who regularly travels with him to races.

In the swim, Scheidies and his guide are tethered with a cord. Changes in tension in the cord signal him to turn around the buoy or maneuver around other swimmers.

He then pedals on the back seat of a tandem bicycle with the guide handling the steering. In the final leg, Scheidies runs beside the guide, who will warn him about turns or obstacles coming up.

"I have to trust that my guide's going to take me the right way and that my guide's going to be physically ready for the race," Scheidies said. "He's got to tell me where we're going, what's coming up, how far we have to go."

Scheidies has won two world championships for athletes with disabilities and plans to compete in his first Ironman event on June 26 when he participates in a race in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Ironman races are considerably longer than Olympic-style events and consist of a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

Scheidies credits a sharp memory for allowing him to navigate through everyday life, and his achievements go beyond athletics. He graduated from Michigan State in December with a degree in Kinesiology and posted a 4.0 grade-point average last year. He will continue his education by studying physical therapy at the University of Washington this fall.

Scheidies is also working to get more blind- and vision-impaired athletes involved in athletics as a member of the C-Different Foundation. The foundation rounded up a dozen blind athletes for a recent race in Malibu, Calif., and Scheidies hopes it can help others find athletic fulfillment.

"Triathlon changed my life," he said. "It's given me a whole new outlook and let me meet new people and just reach my potential in athletics. It's made me a better person."

JAL Honolulu Triathlon

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