Sports – Visually Impaired Triathlete Drives for Success

“If you don’t watch, we’ll kick you in the butt.”  Those are the words of warning from 30 year old Ryan Van Praet, who will be competing in an Ironman triathlon this Saturday in Clearwater, Florida, where he’ll be trying for a world title as a visually impaired triathlete.

One of only a few paratriathletes during the event, Ryan doesn’t want anyone to think of him any differently than the other competitors.  In fact, he’s challenging anyone who dares to think otherwise.  “We all have the same physical battle, he said.  “And as far as training, we can do it just like anyone else.  And we’re out to beat you.”

Praet wasn’t always a paratriathlete, but the degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa has left him with only eight percent usable vision.  He competed solo in six Ironman competitions, starting back in 2000, but he had to make the switch to a paratriathlete last year.  Now, he uses various guides to get him through the course.  While swimming and running, he is tethered to a partner, and while biking he uses a tandem bike.  Last year, in an Ironman competition in Lake Placid, he and his partner placed second.

Praet stresses that their goal is to always perform at or above the level of the able-bodied athletes they compete against.

Praet is an athlete at heart and when his vision deteriorated, he lost the ability to participate in many of the sports that he loved.  Triathlon helped fill that gap and fulfill his need to be an athlete; to challenge himself and push himself to succeed.  As a goal-oriented and driven person, triathlon is his haven, and no matter what designation he must give himself–paratriathlete or otherwise–he’s there to compete, he’s there to win, and he’ll work as hard as anyone else out there to accomplish that.

Good luck, Ryan.


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