Imagine swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running a marathon, 26.2 miles, without stopping. This is an Ironman Triathlon*.
Now consider the challenge of being blind, and having the goal of competing and finishing an Ironman Triathlon.
Caroline Gaynor has enabled female blind athletes to accomplish this incredible goal, by acting as their guide. In 2010, she became the first female to guide a female blind triathlete in an Ironman Triathlon*. Subsequently, Caroline has guided 10 blind female triathletes in over 30 triathlons,** including 6 Ironmans. She has guided in 2 Ironman Triathlons in the past month alone.
I heard Caroline’s very moving story of acting as a triathlete guide at the BAM Alliance Annual Conference, which I attended this past Sunday – Tuesday. Caroline’s inspiring speech captivated the audience. Beyond her obvious physical accomplishments, was Caroline’s view of her role in assisting blind triathletes. Caroline’s goal is how she can best enable the blind triathlete to reach their goal. She feels it is their race, not her event. Her role is to do whatever she can to enable the blind athlete to succeed.
Consider the incredible level of trust which the blind triathlete is placing in Caroline, as her guide. The two are tethered together during the swimming and running parts of a triathlon, and ride a tandem bicycle for the biking portion. For an Ironman competition, Caroline and the blind triathlete are connected and working together for up to 17 hours.
While swimming, the blind triathlete cannot hear (due to being in the water). Caroline functions as her eyes and ears, protecting the tethered blind athlete from other swimmers. Throughout the event, Caroline’s role is to anticipate challenges and obstacles, such as curves, bumps, elevation changes and other competitors while on the road. Caroline must determine and communicate the challenges and problems which the blind triathlete cannot do on her own.
Caroline has to adapt to the different styles and abilities of each triathlete she guides. The blind triathlete and Caroline usually do not train or practice together prior to Caroline acting as her guide. Caroline must act quickly and decisively, but in a calm, confident and reassuring manner throughout the event.
Caroline is an associate for Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), providing support to investment firms such as ours. DFA is the primary investment firm we recommend and use for stock investments. DFA has grown to become one of the 10 largest mutual fund companies, with approximately $400 billion under management. Our firm has a fiduciary responsibility to put our client’s interest first, ahead of our own interest. DFA and Caroline have been successful by understanding their clients (and triathletes) and helping them to achieve their goals.
Caroline understands the blind triathlete’s goal, which is to complete the event safely and successfully. For an Ironman event, where each part of the event is far longer than in a triathlon, the goal is to finish in 17 hours and to hear the event announcer’s words, “Mary Smith, you are an Ironman.” That means the teamwork, trust and effort were successful.
When functioning as a guide, Caroline will not hear her name called at the end of an Ironman competition. Caroline’s role is to assist the blind triathlete in reaching their goal, to hear their name called out. Caroline enabled someone else to compete, she earned their trust and confidence, she anticipated issues that arose throughout the event and protected her triathlete.
Caroline Gaynor is an extraordinary guide, incredible athlete and role model. We can all learn from her.
*Ironman Triathlon: A sequence of long-distance triathlon races consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bicycle ride and a 26.2 mile marathon run.
**Olympic Triathlon: A sequence of standard distance triathlon races consisting of a 0.93 mile swim, a 24.8 mile bicycle ride and a 6.2 mile run.