By Kyle Coon
This Race Report contains strong language.
“Aaron’s the gold standard and I need to measure where I’m at.”
“You’re strong so just go kick some fucking ass!”
“How the fuck did they leave you off the national team?”
“Go fucking throw down and show the world that you’re here.”
One year earlier I was coming off a herniated disk in my low back and was only a month removed from hand surgery after a 25lb dumbbell landed on my hand in the gym. I’d been ready to throw down and earn my spot in the driver’s seat to represent Team USA at the Paralympics for Paratriathlon. Then COVID19 swept across the world and upended life as we knew it.
After months of lockdown and uncertainty we finally returned to full-time training. It took a while to get my groove back and for much of the remainder of 2020 I listlessly plodded through my workouts. Sure I could still throw down some decent bike power and there were some glimpses of speed in the water and on the run.
I went home to spend time with my family over Christmas and New Year’s and returned to the training center the first week of January. I knew my first race of the year would be in Sarasota. Whether that race would count for Paralympic and/or World Ranking points was uncertain, but I knew it would count in my mind and depending on who decided to turn up and race it would count in the minds of everyone watching. So I made a commitment to focus on the process and to throw down. Fortunately for me my fellow resident teammates Howie Sanborn and Jamie Brown had moved on campus and were both committed to getting back to their best. Hailey and Melissa both also seemed hyper focused upon all of our return to training together. A shift seemed to be occurring on the resident team where we were all holding each other more accountable while being incredibly supportive. Every day we each showed up to train and pushed each other. We encouraged each other, and lifted each other a little higher with every swim stroke, pedal revolution and running stride. Before we knew it, it was time to travel to Sarasota to see what each of us was capable of doing.
The St. Pete Shit Show
I stepped out of the shower into an inch of Luke warm water. “What the fuck!” Flew from my mouth. I must be very incompetent at showering. I immediately began mopping up the water that I thought was just by the shower. But as I moved toward the door to the rest of the house we’d rented my concern and frustration grew. The water extended all the way to the door and out into the hall. I began to really worry. What was going on. I called to Howie and Noah who were tinkering with Howie’s hand cycle in the living area. Noah grabbed the rest of the towels we had in the house and tossed them my way. I mopped up and rung out the towels. Mopped up and rung out. Mopped out and rung out. Mopped up and rung out. Then Andy came out of his room and asked what was going on. He peaked into the bathroom. “Oh shit, that’s coming from the toilet.”
Since I had the pleasure of already being drenched in what we now knew as toilet/shit water Andy talked me through shutting off the water to the toilet. Even though I shut the water off it kept on coming. I continued mopping up with sopping wet towels as Howie worked to get hold of our Airbnb host to request a Plummer.
We’d arrived on Wednesday night and as we pulled up to the house Howie received a message from the host letting him know that one of the two toilets was out of order but the second toilet worked great and both showers were working. We walked into the house and while the floors were clean it was pretty evident that this house had been misrepresented on Airbnb. The walls and ceiling weren’t very clean, several outlets were hanging out of the walls, the TV still had a sticker on it, the box for the microwave was stashed behind the couch. Then standing at the kitchen sink we could look directly through a window into the back bedroom. Not exactly the most private for whoever got that room. Oh well, we could make do. Sure only having one toilet for four athletic dudes wasn’t ideal but we’d all stayed in worse before.
We’d chosen to stay in st. Petersburgh, Fla because our fellow teammates had rented a house not far from here and we all wanted to stick together and do some training together and be able to hang out both pre and post race. Sure we’d have to drive 45min to get to Sarasota on Sunday morning but it was worth it to us.
Thursday and Friday passed with little issues except for us occasionally joking about how we didn’t think the Airbnb was worth what we were paying for it. We were also slowly breaking Andy out of his shell. Andy Potts had been training with us for a few months now and while he was a great guy and athlete we really hadn’t cracked through to his personality yet. After two full days with us nutcases we realized the we’d broken Andy and he was flinging insults, making wisecracks, and fitting right in.
Friday afternoon we spent tinkering with bikes, putting on new tubes and tires, and doing general tune ups. Melissa came over to hang out with us for a while and did an excellent job cooking us all up a few Bubba Burgers on the stove. We were bummed that the grilled that had been advertised was nonexistent, but Bubbas still taste great on the stove.
After Melissa left is when the shit hit the fan with the bathroom flooding.
I’d been able to sop up the majority of the water and discovered that the cocking on one side of the base of our one working toilet was gone. So now we had no working toilet. Howie had finally gotten hold of Airbnb who’d gotten hold of the host and we were promised a Plummer would arrive at 1:00 AM. It was going on midnight and Howie offered to wait up. The rest of us went to bed.
I was awoken by the sound of someone hammering on the doorbell at 7:00 AM. I stumbled to the front door making it there the same time Andy did. We greeted the “plummer” (term used extremely loosely) and invited him to come check out the toilet… After of course insisting he return to his truck to put on a mask. He walked in, stepped directly on the bath mat we’d bought and stuck in front of the door of the bathroom to stem the flow. I cringed at the squelch of a thoroughly soaked bathmat of toilet water. The “Plummer flushed the toilet and said he needed to go to Home Depot. Then Andy asked him to come take a look at the second toilet. Hey, this guy was here maybe he’d be able to fix both toilets so we could have two working toilets rather than no working toilets. As soon as Andy and the gentleman stepped into the second bathroom Andy began gagging. Sewage had pushed its way up through the shower and flooded the second shower. Howie immediately jumped online and booked us a hotel. There was no way we were going to stay in this house with sewage backing up into one of the showers.
The Plummer disappeared for a bit to go get his supplies and returned to try and fix everything. Meanwhile, Andy and I took off on an easy spin to loosen our legs, after all we had to race the next day.
When we returned the plummer, who we were now expecting was more of a handyman friend who owed the Airbnb host a favor claimed he’d fixed the first toilet and was now snaking the second bathroom. We began moving our stuff to the cars. The handyman was up on the roof and insisted Andy go check the second bathroom to see how things were progressing. Andy, being a nice guy, did. He came out and let everyone know that the situation was even worse. Sewage was still coming up through the shower. We were all done with this shit show and ready to get away from this house.
Packet Pik Up and Course Preview
We moved our gear into an extended stay hotel and then hit the road to Sarasota so we could pick up our packets and do a quick preview of the run course.
We arrived at Nathan Benderson Park around 3:30 PM. Andy and I immediately bumped into Aaron Scheidies and Greg Billington (2016 Paralympian, who would be guiding Aaron for this race). We exchanged pleasantries and wished each other luck for the next day’s race. As we walked away Andy told me in an undertone, “Aaron looks very fit. He came to race.”
“Bring it on,” I said.
We headed out to jog the run course and talk race strategy. Then we collected our race packets and headed back to St. Pete and our significantly better extended stay hotel.
“It’s fucking race day1 It’s game time! Are you ready?”
Andy was practically spitting with excitement as he pummeled my shoulders in transition before the race. As we walked past Howie, Andy got right up in Howie’s face and did the same thing. Then turning around he pumped up Melissa, Hailey and Jamie in turn. What was going on? We were all jazzed but when you’ve got Andy Potts getting in your face pumping you up you can’t help but get even more amped. You’d have thought Andy was about to race in Kona he was so jazzed and excited. And that excitement and “Game On” attitude infected the entire Paratriathlon Resident team. We were all ready to throw down.
We stepped out onto the pontoon. The first wave of Paratriathletes went off at 11:00 AM. This wave consisted of the PTS2, PTS 3, PTS 4, and PTS 5 men. One minute later the PTS 2-5 women took off. Then Andy and I lowered ourselves into the cool water. Aaron (guided by Greg) and Owen (guided by Ryan) would begin chasing me 3 minutes and 21 seconds after I started. Small benefit of being totally blind I guess. Even so I’d never beaten Aaron in a race. Aaron had never actually ever lost to a fellow visually impaired American. Could I do the unthinkable? Something that had never been done before?
The horn sounded and I charged ahead. Andy, swimming to my left, was so jazzed he nearly ramped it up too much and was on track to go to his swim race pace before he remembered that despite my progress I can’t swim 1min per 100m… But we corrected and began getting in sync with each other. I’d been swimming well coming into this race but today felt different. Every time my hand entered the water I had no trouble getting a vertical forearm and catching the water. I was able to generate smooth and powerful strokes. I remembered the words of my coach, Derick Williamson, “Smooth, steady and strong.” I didn’t try to hammer the swim, I didn’t try to swim easy, I just swam and focused on breathing and pushing as much water behind me as possible. I felt us pass by one of the women that had started ahead of us. Then on the back half of the swim I felt us come up on the feet of someone else. Then we were past them, and then we passed a third person. WTF, what was going on? Either some people were having really tough swims or I was having the swim of my life. Turns out it was the ladder.
I felt my hands hit the sandy ramp which signified our swim exit. I popper up and Andy immediately ripped off the tether and jumped to my right side. We sprinted up the ramp and into Transition 1.
Swim Time: 11min 6sec
As I ran I yanked down the zipper of my sleeveless wetsuit. Initially I had a bit of trouble getting it down to around my waist but eventually was able to free both arms. Andy led me to the bike and I ripped my wetsuit the rest of the way down to my ankles. Of course, my wetsuit got hung up on my heels and I had to spend a few extra seconds prying the wetsuit off. Then I chucked the wetsuit, swim cap and goggles into the baskets where all of our discarded gear is supposed to go. Then it was on with my blacked out sunglasses, Giro Aerohead helmet, and cycling shoes. We grabbed the bike and ran to the mount line. We threw our right legs over the top tube, clipped in and took off.
Transition 1 Time: 1min 13sec
It took a few pedal strokes to get up to speed but once we were up to race power and effort we settled in. We quickly made our way to the only technical part of the bike course, a tight 180 degree lefthand turn. We’d spun easy in the morning prior to the race and ridden around this turn two or three times, but riding easy around a turn and taking it at speed are very different. Andy took our first go at this turn a little cautiously. We came out of the turn and quickly powered up to speed again. I felt so good. I was cruising. My legs felt so fresh and I just wanted to hammer, but I knew I had to keep focused and stay within myself. This race wasn’t going to be decided on the bike. It was going to come down to how fast I could run.
Andy smoothly navigated the course. We kept ramping up our effort on each lap. As we came out of each 180 I consumed a good amount of fluid. I was trying a new drink mix that Andy gave me. It was an Infinite Nutrition Bike Blend with caffeine. It was easy to drink and wasn’t upsetting my stomach, not yet at least.
There were only two hairy moments on the bike. During the second lap the back end became a little squirrelly and Andy had me stop pedaling so he could look back and assess. He was worried we had a flat tire. After a few seconds though we resumed pedaling. We think some debris just made our back end wobble a bit. Then on the third lap we came out of the 180 turn and I began to throw down some power. Maybe a little too much because it caused us to swerve a bit and very nearly eat pavement. Andy kept the bike upright though and we continued.
As we approached the end of the bike we passed my teammate, PTS4 competitor Jamie Brown. Jamie gave us a yell of encouragement, and after giving us the appropriate 10m drafting zone began trying to match our pace. We were flying. Jamie later told me that he was so jazzed and pumped up to see us come past him he couldn’t help but become reinvigorated to race and continue to extend his gap on his competitors.
Before I knew it Andy was telling me “left shoe” signaling to me to unstrap my left shoe and pull my foot out. Then a few pedal strokes more and pull the right foot out. We made the final turn on the bike course and Andy gave me the count down. “3, 2, 1, dismount.” I popped off and we began running with the bike.
Bike time: 26min 25sec
We sprinted to our spot in transition. As of yet we hadn’t seen Aaron or Owen since the very start. I knew I had to be quick in T2 though because both of them could run like the wind. I fumbled with my shoes and had to take a couple deep breaths to center myself. Finally, my shoes slid on to my feet, I grabbed the run tether, yanked it over my head and Andy was there to run next to me as we headed toward the run course.
Transition 2 Time: 58sec
“Stay focused. Don’t go out too fast. Descend this run,” I told myself. We took a hard right hand turn, then a left and we were out on the run. I took a deep breath in through my nose letting my belly fill up with oxygen. Then I forcefully released it. Andy kept telling me “relax, chin down, show the bottom of your foot, roll with it.”
We made our way onto the first of three little foot bridges we’d have to cross. These bridges would be the only elevation gain on the run. In previous years running up these crushed me. Today I was feeling good. My legs felt lighter than they ever had coming off the bike. It took a ton of self control not to just start sprinting and throwing down the gauntlet. I knew that if I wanted to run the run I was capable of running I had to be patient and execute the plan. And Andy was sticking to the plan. Several times he’d tell me to back it off to pick it up. We wanted to run a conservative first mile. We hit the first mile in 6min 7sec. Then we began to turn up the heat. We made it off the last bridge and onto a flat dead straight stretch that would bring us out to the 5K turnaround point.
At this point we were running into a headwind. We hit the turnaround and the air seemed to just stand still. I went from hearing the wind blasting in my ears and the breeze having a cooling effect to a very hot and humid day where I was trying to run 6min miles. My breathing rate seemed to double, I suddenly felt the sweat pouring off my face and body. My legs felt heavy and I just knew that Aaron would be there when I turned around. In my head I was saying “There’s no way you’ve been running at a 6min pace. Aaron’s got to be just behind you and Andy’s been lying about the run pace.”
Andy had a calm head though and I think he could tell I was beginning to struggle. He reminded me to relax, to let myself flow, to not become mechanical. We ran for 30sec, then a minute. Where was Aaron? Then he was there running toward us with Greg.
“Here they come,” Andy said. “You knew Aaron was going to come to race. So don’t give him anything. Look strong. Stay focused. You’ve got this!”
We passed each other and once we were out of ear shot Andy said, “You’ve got a 2min 40sec gap.” I couldn’t believe it. That knowledge gave me a boost. I began really pushing myself to go even faster. I knew that 2:40 gap could shrink in the blink of an eye if I let off the gas. Aaron’s been racing a long time and is probably the best blind/visually impaired triathlete in history. I knew he could turn the jets on and close a gap to anyone in the world. If I wanted to hold onto this lead I’d have to turn myself inside out to do it.
As we ran we began passing people in the opposite direction. We saw Owen and his guide Ryan looking ridiculously strong as they chased Aaron and Greg. Jamie Brown running strong. Then my teammate Hailey Danz. As we passed Hailey gave her trademark phrase “Fuck yeah Kyle!!!” Hailey and I are swim buddies in the pool. We pace off each other and push each other to dig deeper. We’d both made major jumps in our triathlon fitness the past two years and had both made significant strides in closing the gaps on our competitors. Hailey could see I had a massive lead on Aaron and she was stoked. Just a short 30sec later we saw our teammate Melissa Stockwell who yelled with excitement and encouragement to see our gap not just holding but growing. Then female BVI compatriot Liz Baker and her guide Jillian Elliott. We made it onto one of the bridges and Andy continued to push me.
“Come on Kyle, don’t let off the gas. Bring it up! Bring it up!” He was almost begging me to give a little more. I pumped my arms, kicked my legs behind me and forcibly exhaled. We made the final turn and hit the finisher shoot. Andy yelled at me to sprint and I did. I sprinted hard begging the finish line to come to me faster. Then we were there and I heard the announcer say that I was the first to cross the finish line in the men’s PTVI class. I couldn’t believe my ears. I grabbed Andy in a massive bear hug and held on, yes because I was excited and grateful that Andy had pushed me to my limit and helped me execute the race we knew I was capable of, but also to prevent myself from collapsing and hitting the ground too hard from exhaustion.
Run Time: 18min 38sec
Total Time: 58min 18sec
I sank to the ground and stayed there on my elbows and knees trying to catch my breath as I listened to the music at the finish line and the excitement of the crowd that was there. After a minute Andy encouraged me to get up. “Don’t let your competitors see you on the ground. Stand up and be strong.”
I got slowly to my feet and we made our way to the side of the finisher shoot. Then we saw Jamie Brown make his final turn and come running into the finish line to claim his first win since July of 2019. He came to us and we bear hugged. “Fucking awesome bro!” He said. We all stepped out of the finish area and waited. Where was Aaron? After a couple of minutes we saw Aaron and Greg make the turn and run into the finish line. Less than two minutes later Owen and Ryan came in to round out the podium.
After a few minutes we were right back at the side of the race course eagerly awaiting our next teammates to cross. Hailey came across to win the PTS2 female race with Melissa hot on her heels to claim Silver. Not long after that Howie blazed across the finish line to claim his first victory since 2017. Across the board the USA Paratriathlon Resident Team dominated, more important than that to each of us though was that we were all just as excited for each others wins as we were for our own.
Each of my teammates came up to me after they’d caught their breath, gave me huge hugs and congratulations and I did the same for them. We’d all jelled as a team and the culture our coach had bred in us and our willingness to embrace that culture of supportiveness, camaraderie, and excellence brought us to these heights. What’s most exciting though is that none of think we’ve even touched our potential. Yes, we all crushed our races. Yes, we all overcame massive obstacles on our way to our first wins in 2021, but we still have a long way to go. We’re keeping an eye on our vision. Our vision is for us all to replicate Sarasota at each race, but especially Tokyo.
We don’t know when we’ll race again, possibly May, possibly later. What we do know is that we will all be there ready to rock and roll.
Thank you to my team for believing in me every step of the way. Thank you to my family for understanding the dedication it takes to compete to be one of the best blind/visually impaired triathletes in the world. Thank you to USA Triathlon for believing in me enough to give me the tools to succeed and for having the vision to develop this USA Paratriathlon Invitational race Series to allow us to compete. Thank you to my coach Derick Williamson for taking me from where I was to where I am, we’re not done yet and he believes we can get even faster. Thank you to my incredible partners, Bubba Burger and Cycles Chinook for your unwavering support on my journey. Thank you Andy Potts for guiding me, pushing me to new heights, for being an incredible mentor and coach as well as my eyes. And thank you to all of you, the #eyeronvision family. I hope you enjoy these race reports. I hope you’re able to make it out to a race some time soon. I hope reading about my adventures reminds you to keep an eye on your own vision and to live your life without limits.
Until the next time.
Remember to always keep an Eye On Your Vision!
USA Paratriathlon Invitational PTVI Men Results:
1. Kyle Coon/Andy Potts: 58min 18sec
2.Aaron Scheidies/Greg Billington: 1hr 1min 48sec
3.Owen Cravens/Ryan Giuliano: 1hr 3min 12sec
Thanks for the great race gentlemen! Can’t wait to toe the start line with you all again!