In this December episode, SCI explores disability in sports with Aaron Scheidies, legally blind ITU World Paratriathlon Champion. He discusses issues and challenges he has faced and educates on some of the systemic barriers he has had to overcome en route to his status as a World Champion.
SCI explores disability in sports this month, discussing some of the issues and systemic barriers for disabled athletes with Aaron Scheidies, legally blind ITU World Paratriathlon Champion. Scheidies has a condition called juvenile macular degeneration, where he loses his central vision over time. He describes how he adapted his athletic ambitions to his vision and how he has tried to use his success in triathlon to pioneer the way for other blind and visually impaired athletes.
Though Scheidies' life worsening vision closed some doors early in his life, it soon opened others. After his brother introduced him to swimming, cross country and track and field followed, and from there, it was a natural switch to triathlon. Scheidies competed in his first triathlon in 1999, and by 2002, he was a World Champion. He now has his sights on the 2016 Paralympics in Rio.
"I've been blessed with a lot of opportunities because of (triathlon)," Scheidies said. "I want to keep challenging myself."
"Honestly I was motivated by anger (at the beginning), but I slowly started understanding that this vision was normal for me, and I started really trying to seek out new challenges," Scheidies said. "That's where I started learning to really be resilient."
In his early years, Scheidies competed solo, without a guide, which he admits was not safe but that no one knew better. "In order to get to the top and be the best you can be, you have to take a lot of risks," he says. "This was back when no one really knew how to accommodate a visually impaired athlete."
Some of his hardest obstacles as an athlete have come not from his vision, but from common misconceptions in the sport that he and other blind/visually impaired athletes have an unfair advantage from their guides.
"As I became more comfortable with being blind and being okay with what other people say, I tried to become more of a leader and step up to make sure that my voice was heard," Scheidies said.
When the ICU implemented a rule that all blind/visually impaired athletes use "blackout glasses" to compete totally blind, Scheidies and most of the community strongly disagreed, working through various channels including a lawsuit to upend the rule.
"There's this notion that we need to level the playfield for everyone," Scheidies said. "But you can't level an unleveled playfield. We all have different abilities and adapt differently.
Roughly 90% of legally blind people have some light perception, which is crucial for balance and navigation. "The major educational part is that people hear the word 'blind' and think lights out," Scheidies said. "In everything in life, there is a gradation."
Moving forward, Scheidies would like to see more blind/visually impaired athletes in sports decision making roles and more media coverage of the paralympics to bring the positive attention and respect that disabled athletes deserve.
"Society needs to accept that someone with a disability can compete at or above the level of able bodied athletes, and they can do it without some sort of advantage," Scheidies said. "There has to be more acceptance of that."
SCI supports competitive goals in athletics through understanding, preventing, and resolving destructive conflict both inside and outside the lines. SCI serves as a knowledge center and provides a range of services to help ensure student-athlete experience is part of a healthy university culture while optimizing performance on and off of the field of play. Conflict is inevitable, but how we respond determines whether success follows or costs mount. SCI Founder Joshua Gordon has over 20 years of conflict management experience.
Watch the full episode at: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=pLhjnBNNJHo#t=12