Blind athlete numbers on the rise with training programs

Thousands of athletes will be swimming, biking and running along the lake front Sunday for the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon.
Thousands of athletes will be swimming, biking and running along the lake front Sunday for the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon.

Among them is a 37-year-old athlete who is legally blind.

With support of several coaches, Chicago resident Isreal Antonio has become a successful triathlete.

"My best time for a triathlon was at the paratriathlon U.S. National Championships in 2013," Antonio said. "I finished in one hour and 27 minutes."

This will be the second time Antonio will compete in the Transamerica Chicago Triathlon.

"I'm hoping to get under an hour and 20 minutes," he said.

Antonio became blind at the age of 14 from retinal detachment.

"I am completely blind," Antonio said.

He has competed in nine triathlons. His strongest is running, his weakness is in swimming.

"I have a hard time breathing in the freestyle," he said.

The number of blind triathletes is growing. Dan Tun is co-founder of Dare2tri and coaches blind athletes.

"We pair them up with a sighted guide and they will be with them doing the swim, bike and run," Tun said.

The C Different Foundation is another organization promoting blind individuals to be athletes. Jennifer Spencer is a volunteer.

"They pair sighted individuals with the visually impaired to compete in marathons, triathlons, ironman," Spencer said.

Antonio's running guide is Jennifer Pfaff.

"This last year we ran Boston and I got to be his eyes on the course all the way through Hopkinton into Boston," Pfaff said.

"Why it works well as a guide, because I am faster, so running with Isreal doesn't tax me," Pfaff said.

"As I became a national champion last year and went to the paratriathlon worlds in London, I became very excited about the possibility of representing the United States in the Olympics," Antonio said.

"He's quick, he's tough to keep up with but he's a very strong athlete, very motivated and passionate about the sport," Tun said.

To learn more about Transmerica Chicago Triathlon, Dare2tri and the C Different Foundation, visit www.dare2tri.org, www.chicagotriathlon.com or www.cdifferent.org.
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