Guiding the Visually Impaired: A Journey of Inclusion in Triathlons and Ironmans with Caroline Gaynor (Ep. 128)
People with disabilities may face challenges when engaging in everyday activities. However, participating in competitive sports can be even more daunting for them.
What can we do to provide them with the necessary support?
Watch the Video Version
Listen to the Audio Version
Join us in this release as Larry Heller, CFP®, CDFA®, sits down with Caroline Gaynor, Vice President, Relationship Director & Investment Specialist at Avantis Investors.
During this conversation, Caroline discusses her journey of guiding visually disabled athletes in high-intensity and competitive sports such as triathlons and Ironmans. She shares insights on how she became involved in this field and some of her most remarkable experiences. Furthermore, Caroline provides suggestions on how we can support para-athletes.
- How visually impaired athletes can participate with modifications in sports such as triathlons
- Her most eye-opening experiences while guiding in triathlons and Ironmans
- The hardest part of helping others in high intensive sports
- Ways you help para-athletes and where you can volunteer
- And more!
Connect with Caroline Gaynor:
Connect with Larry Heller:
- (631) 248-3600
- Schedule a 20-Minute Call
- Heller Wealth Management
- LinkedIn: Larry Heller, CFP®, CPA
- YouTube: Life Unlimited with Larry Heller, CFP®
About Our Guest:
Caroline Gaynor has a day job working as a regional director for a large asset manager. Outside of her job, Caroline works hard at something that isn’t a job but is more than a hobby: guiding visually-impaired triathletes. A triathlete since her college years, Caroline got into guiding by chance in 2008 and was hooked.
Welcome to the Life Unlimited Podcast with Larry Heller. You deserve complete financial advice so you can confidently live your life your way for life. Now let’s get into this week’s podcast episode. Hello and welcome to Life Unlimited with Larry Heller from Heller Wealth Management. I’m Larry’s producer Aric, and I’m here to learn along with you the audience.
Larry, what’s going on? Oh, Aric, another nice day here in New York. So I’m excited to have our guest on today, so let’s get started. Okay. Well, yeah, you have an amazing guest, uh, and that is Caroline Gaynor. Caroline is Vice President, Relationship Director & Investment Specialist at Avantis Investors. Responsible for building close working relationships with investment advisors.
Caroline is also a sought after public speaker who has presented at numerous events and conferences for end investor and advisor audiences, and is a guide for visually impaired or [00:01:00] blind athletes. Larry, that sounds absolutely amazing. I mean, you know, kind of a standard bio. She does this, she does a, and then that last sentence really hit me.
Yeah, so I, so I’ve known Caroline for a long time and we’ve had numerous conversations about this, and I thought it, this is such a great thing that she does, and so Cool. Yeah. That I thought I’d like to share it with my audience. Uh, maybe there’ll be some people out there that it resonates with as well and want to get into this.
Yeah. Yeah. I, I’m so excited, Caroline. I’m so glad that you’re here on the show. Oh, I’m so happy to be here. All right, Larry, it’s all you. Great, thanks Aric. Hi Caroline, thanks for joining me today. Great to see you, Larry. Thanks for having me. All right, so let’s kind of jump right into this. So how did you get started into the, you know, the guide blinding, and actually, why don’t we tell our audience what it actually is that you do?
Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of people aren’t familiar when you know, you tell them that blind athletes are able to do all the different sports that we are. They’re just, they need modification, they need assistance in doing it. [00:02:00] So guiding blind athletes in any sport, there are modifications for adaptive athletes.
In the sport that I do, which is mainly triathlons, you act as the, essentially as the vision for the blind athletes. So I’m swimming, biking, and running alongside whoever I’m racing with. I always like to tell people, you know, if you’ve ever been skiing and you’ve seen two people side by side on the slopes with, um, an orange vest on, it’ll say guide on one vest and blind on the other.
It’s the exact same thing. The athlete, the blind athlete is totally able to do the sport. They just need somebody to navigate them, but they’re putting forth their own effort. You know, they’re actually physically doing the sport. Are you attached? Is there a rope or something that they’re attached? Are they touching something or you’re just on the side of them?
Well, so it depends. The sport, I’ll speak specifically to triathlon. We are tethered in triathlon, so on the swim you’re tethered by, um, usually a bungee. I prefer to have the bungee around my thigh. Some people will do ankle [00:03:00] or waist, but thigh is much more common. And so when you’re swimming next to somebody, the tether keeps us connected.
And my goal is to be right next to the person or slightly behind, because you don’t wanna be giving them, uh, assistance. You don’t want to be dragging them through the water if you’re a faster swimmer, for instance. And so my body will serve as the barrier on one side, and then the tether is the barrier on the other side.
So if they veer off, , you know, away from me, the tether will prevent them from going too far. Um, on the bike, we ride a tandem bike, so there’s two people on one bike. The, the visually impaired person is in the back that’s called the stoker position. The person in the front is called the pilot or the captain, but we’re both putting out, um, effort on the bike and then on the run, we’re tethered either around the waist or around the wrist, depending on the athlete’s preference.
So why don’t we just back up a second for everyone? Yeah. Who’s not familiar with a triathlon race. So, uh, can you kind of explain what is the triathlon race and how far each of the distances are. [00:04:00] Definitely. Well, the great thing about triathlon, so for any listeners who want to get into this at some point, I will tell you I know 85 year olds that have done triathlons, uh, even older.
So I don’t want anyone to be daunted by what I’m gonna describe. A triathlon really just, um, relate, refers to a swim, bike run event. Usually it’s in that order. It’s gonna be a swim followed by a bike, and then a run. Now the cool thing about a triathlon is that every second in the race counts. So when you, when the gun goes off at the beginning of the race, everyone starts swimming.
And then when you finish the swim, you um, you know, maybe take off your wetsuit, you’ve gotta put on your bike shoes and your bike helmet, all of that, it counts towards your finishing time. So, you know, there are a lot of ways that you can improve your overall time in a triathlon. And it’s not just getting fitter and faster.
Getting, uh, faster in transitions can also help your. So, oh, I didn’t say distances. Sorry. What were, yes, I was gonna say, so what, I know there are a lot of different triathlon, but what are the kind of the, [00:05:00] is there a normal one? What are the ones that you mostly do when you’re doing the guide Guiding.
Well, okay, I’ll start with the normal ones. Sprint and Olympic distance are very common. Olympic distance is again, kind of refers to what you’ll see, uh, generally in the Olympics, and it’s a really standard distance, and that’s a very fun length. That’s a 1.5K swim or 9/10 of a mile. A 40K bike or 24.8 miles, and then a 10K run or a 6.2 mile run.
There are also sprint distances, which are half of that. Now let’s move to those. Did you say that was a, the fun, the fun ones that, you know, that takes anywhere from, well, I, I don’t even wanna throw out times, I’ll say between. Two hours for Olympic athletes to, you know, four hours if you’re really just getting started.
So it’s, uh, you know, you can do it in a morning. Mm-hmm. I’ll say that. Mm-hmm. Um, and it does, it does take some time to train for those. Uh, but the, the distance I like the best is Ironman distance. That is a completely. It’s in a different ballpark because that is a race that you have a 17 hour [00:06:00] time limit to do.
So it’s a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike and then a full marathon, so Oh, wow. Yeah, it’s a very long race, so well, it, I mean, for everyone who’s out there and they’re probably saying, wow, I mean, what kind of training goes into running one of those? It takes months. So that’s a sort of race where you’ve gotta have a base level of fitness before you even sign up for it.
So I would say you should have, you should be racing for a while, um, or at least doing endurance training for a couple of years. When you get to the point where you know, you can comfortably run six miles without any issues and you can do a 30 to 50 mile bike ride, then you can probably start training to do an Ironman and then it’ll take.
If it’s your first one, I would say give it at least six months to feel comfortable, feeling like you could go in and complete the race. And that’s just [00:07:00] complete, that’s not even, you know, trying to go as fast as you can. Mm-hmm. So the, the guides that you’re doing, are they typical, the Ironman, uh, distances?
I’ve done all sorts of differences, but I have, uh, I’ve actually guided 10 full Ironmans, which is, um, it’s a really high number. There aren’t that many athletes that have done, um, done Ironmans. So it has definitely been, um, that, that’s sort of the distance that you know, it, it’s very close to my heart. And do you have a favorite one that you’ve run?
Oh, run swim, bike. The one that I really, I I’ve, everyone was very special to me, but the last one I did was September of 2021, and it was the first one that I did, uh, since I became a mom. And it was also, you know, the first race, uh, after the pandemic had started. So it was one of those really exciting things to come back.
But when I, if you, when I describe what happened in the race, you’re gonna say, why was this your [00:08:00] favorite race? Because it was the hardest swim I’ve ever done. And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you why. This race is in Maryland and it takes place in the chop tank river, which is brackish water. So the entire swim was filled with jellyfish.
Nice. I’m not, I’m not kidding. I was with my amazing friend, Randy, and the day, two days before we had done a practice swim and we’d gotten so badly stung that I was terrified to get in this water. It was, I, I don’t recommend, but the reason why it was so fantastic and why I, it’s still one of my favorite races is that we were so scared to get in this water.
It was painful. It was, you know, disgusting. But it, it was, we got through the race. Randy even had a couple of really, really bad muscle cramps that prevented her from moving for periods of the race. It was one of those swims where you’re like, I’m not sure if we can do this. So when we actually did it and we got out of that water, It was the most amazing feeling.
Um, but I, I [00:09:00] realized talking about a jellyfish swim and saying that’s my favorite race probably makes me sound a little bit nuts. Yeah, I can, Ima I’ve never got stung by a jellyfish, but I hear it’s not fun. Not fun. I mean, these weren’t, you know, the dangerous kind where you’re gonna have to go to the hospital, but I mean, enough that you notice every time one touches you.
Mm-hmm. So, I think we’ve talked about this, uh, over the years, but can you share with the audience why did you get into being a guide. I feel very lucky that I got into being a guide, and part of it was luck and part of it was me seeking it out. Um, you know, when I was in college was senior year of college.
I was a rower in college and I stopped rowing and I wanted to make sure everyone knew that I stopped rowing, not not to go party, but. I had good reasons. So I signed up for my first Ironman. That was my senior year of college. So after that I continued racing, but I always, but for that very first Ironman, I fundraised for a charity that I’d been volunteering with, and I love the idea of, Um, you know, doing this race for a reason [00:10:00] to raise money for something I cared about.
So when I graduated college and I was working in New York, there was a group called Achilles that was, that still exists and is very, very present. They have chapters all over. They would meet, uh, during the week and run. And I’d seen people running with, with guides before and I was really interested. But the way I got into guiding triathlons was almost pure luck.
Um, I was, I knew a guy that had been trying to help some blind athletes get into triathlons, and I was signed up for the New York City triathlon in 2008, and he gave me a call and asked if I knew anyone that could help, um, guide somebody in that race. And I was already signed up for the race that to this day, I don’t know if he was, you know, Actually asking me to do it.
Mm-hmm. Or if he really wanted to know if I knew someone, but I was like, well, I’m already signed up. I’ve done this race a bunch of times. Sure, no problem. But after I did that race, it was, you know, a light bulb moment. Uh, I knew that that was something that I absolutely wanted to keep doing for as long as I could.[00:11:00]
Uh, awesome. So I, you shared us a story about jellyfish. Any other stories that you can share with, with, with the audience? Well, I should, I mean, I should share about that very first race because I’ll tell you, I was not prepared for it. I met the woman that I was guiding. The day before the race. Can you imagine?
So woman I was guiding, she’s amazing, capable person. She’s an attorney. She flew into New York. Um, we met at the race at Expo, which is where you pick up your packet and we were talking about this race and what we were gonna do, but you can talk through something, but until you’re actually there doing it, it’s a totally different story.
So thankfully the swim that we did, it was actually not, not terrible. There were some mishaps, but in terms of, you know, she wasn’t panicking. She was okay. Uh, we got through the swim, but when we got to the bike portion, this is where things totally fell apart for me. I had only ridden a tandem bike one time, so I don’t know if any of your listeners ride tandems, but be really careful if you choose to ride with a spouse because it’s can be [00:12:00] very stressful.
It is so different than riding a solo bike. And so we, you know, we put one leg over the bike and I’m like, okay. Put, put your right foot up and then I’m gonna count to three and we’re gonna go, and I thought we were just gonna take off and ride and it would be fine, but I don’t know if my, you know, the athlete was nervous or if I was probably a combination of both, but the front end of the bike was going back and forth so much.
I really thought we were gonna crash. We could not get started. It was so terrifying. Kind of embarrassing too. I mean, I was a cyclist. I thought I knew what I was doing, but so I had, we had to really take a step back and completely rethink how we were gonna approach it. Um, I was very lucky that I’d had some decent cycling coaches and I understood that if we, the more we touched the handle bars, the worse it was gonna get.
So I basically told her Pretend you can’t touch the handlebars and like, and, and we need to pedal as fast as we can to get the momentum up. But you know, this bike ride is on the Henry Hudson Parkway, Larry. So when we finally did get going, I’m white knuckling as we’re flying 40 miles an hour down, you know, these [00:13:00] highway hills.
It was totally terrifying. Um, so that was something I I, I knew I’m gonna, I was gonna need a lot more practice on the bike after that. Yeah. Well, I, I would think that you would, would need to train. The athlete before you do one of these Ironmans, because you, you want to be in this sync with them, whether it’s the swim, I guess.
You can’t go too fast and you can’t go too slow. Uh, and the same thing with the bike, especially if you’re both pedaling. Yeah, right. You need to kind of train together to get synced. Ideally, absolutely you should train together. Um, this first race I should have mentioned, it was an Olympic distance race, so it was a little shorter, but still, that’s not a short race.
Um, no, completely. And that’s actually partially why I do podcasts and why I’m I, you know, try to be vocal about guiding. Because imagine if you’re a blind athlete and you want to do a workout outside, you know, your, your friend that likes to run with you, they might not be able to run outside every single day.
So if you wanna do workouts outside, you’re gonna need a guide with you. So every [00:14:00] athlete, every blind athlete, or visually impaired athlete needs many guides to get the training done. Um, and I definitely recommend it’s way better if you’re gonna do a long race, if you live near the person. I have, um, fortunately or unfortunately, I’ve been able to step in and, and guide people, you know, on short notice and things like that.
But yet in an ideal situation, you’re able to train with the person that you end up racing with. And, and I’m guessing for the most part, you’ve been able to finish all the races with the athlete? I have finished, I mean, Mo absolutely most, so I’ve probably guided, I mean, I’ve guided 10 Ironmans. Maybe 30 or 40 other triathlons on a whole bunch of running races.
There have been, you know, 95% have finished. There was one Ironman that I did where. I got really bad leg cramps and I was worried that I was going to fall and take the athlete down with me, and that was [00:15:00] probably the hardest race I’ve done emotionally because I made, you know, I did the whole race and I could have finished the whole race, but I was slowing her down and I might have put her in danger.
And so we made the call that I would not continue running with her and she. A bunch of teammates out spectating and cheering. And so three or four people stepped in and did the final part of the run with her. Wow. Um, yeah, it was amazing. And, you know, I, I do like that story because it is a true partnership when you’re guiding, you know, Ideally, if you’re guiding with somebody, guiding somebody, you should be faster than they are when you’re having your worst day and they’re having their best day.
But there are exceptions to that. There are times when you get hurt or you’re sick or something happens, and you have to know that going into it, that nobody’s perfect things happen. Um, but I think that that was a really cool experience for the people who did step in. Because, you know, they really saved the day.
Um, and, and thankfully the woman I was racing with, Tina is this, she’s amazing. One of my close friends and we’ve done many more Ironmans together since then. But yeah, that [00:16:00] was, um, that was a really hard day for me. Hmm. So is there a hard part, or what would you say the hardest part of guiding an Ironman is?
I think, all right, so people will ask, you know, oh, is it, is it hard? It’s absolutely hard there, but there’s two sides of it. Because if I were to go out and race an Ironman entirely on my own, and I were going as fast as I can possibly go, that’s a different type of hard. When you’re guiding, you are always on.
You have to focus on what’s around you. You have to communicate all of these things to the person you’re racing with. Um, imagine if you have a personality conflict or you’re, you know, something like that cuz you’re physically next to somebody for hours. Um, so I think that the hard part is just that you’re always on and if you make a mistake that can have a really, uh, bad impact on the person you’re racing with.
Yeah, a absolutely. Yeah. I guess it’s probably more nerve-wracking to do this as a guide than it is to do it for yourself. [00:17:00] I definitely, the only per, if I do an Ironman solo, the only person I can disappoint is myself. You’re totally right. I mean, I think, um, yeah, and I, I take it very seriously and, and, and now all the women I’ve raced with are, you know, some of my closest friends, which is fantastic.
But that’s even more nerve wracking cuz these are people I care so much about. Right. So, so these Ironmans you’ve done all over the country? Yes. And the, I’ve done, I did one in Western Australia as well, so I’ve gone Wow. International. Do you have any, any plans in the future for doing one of these? Oh, absolutely.
I, you know, I don’t have one on the calendar right now, but this last weekend I guided a half marathon with a friend of mine who is, um, he’s. As we speak in London, he’s about to run the London Marathon and we did his last training run. We ran a half marathon together. Um, so this is something that even when I don’t have a big Ironman on the calendar, it’s something I try to do whenever I can.
And for me at this point, it’s really, I [00:18:00] get to hang out with friends and I mean, I guess I’m helping them out cuz they need a guide, but also it’s the way I spend time with people I care about, which is. What I always like to emphasize, cuz that’s what this has turned into for me, is I’m, I spend time with people that I really care about.
Yeah. I mean this, I think this is just a great thing that you do and to be able to help other people and visually impaired or blind, uh, to be able to, to fulfill their, their goals of doing Ironmans or any type of. Any type of event is, uh, is so great that you’re able to give, give back rather than, so if anyone out there, you know, wants to become a guide or learn more about it, what could they do?
There are several things you can do if you wanna become a guide. And I would also say that if you are interested in helping out the para community, so para meaning anyone with a physical disability, um, there are other ways to volunteer. So I’ll describe how to potentially get into guiding, but also you can help with, um, you know, assisting [00:19:00] with, uh, you, uh, watching backpacks while people are running in Central Park.
You can. You know, be a guide dog, uh, handler while people are out running. You can be the person that hands, uh, an amputee their prosthetic limb in, you know, in a race. Like, there are lots of different ways to help. So don’t think that the only way to help in this community. Is to be a guide, but, um, I’ll point to a few organizations and then I’ll also share you that people can reach out to me directly if they want to.
But, um, there is, so Achilles International is a national organization. They have a very strong presence in New York. You can just Google Achilles, and that’s. That’s everywhere. Um, Dare2Tri is a, an organization based out of Chicago, that’s one of my favorite groups in the whole world. They’ve done so many things and you can actually, if you wanna do, you can fly there and they have camps and things.
They’re always looking for volunteers. Um, there’s Team Catapult in Houston. Another awesome organization that’s helping people all over the place and then Challenged Athletes Foundation is another fantastic one. They do a [00:20:00] lot of work with amputees and with, with visually impaired people as well. But you can fundraise for these organizations.
There’s so many things you can do and if anyone has direct questions, you can reach me on, on Instagram or Twitter, and it’s just my first name, Caroline, but it’s spelled. Like Caroline, so C A R O L I N E Bikes, B I K E S. So Caroline Bikes on Instagram or Twitter. I’m always happy to talk. Um, there’s, there’s a reason why I’m have a more public profile is that people ask me questions and I love helping people get into it because there can never be too many guides.
I’ll say that. Great. And we’ll follow up with you and get some of these links to some of the charities that we can put into the summary for the, uh, for the podcast. Great. So, any final words that you’d like to, to share with us uh, today? I would say if you have any interest in either getting involved in the para athletic community or if you are thinking, Hey, I might wanna run a 5K.
It’s never too late to start getting into things like this. There are people of all [00:21:00] abilities, all ages, that do do these types of races and it’s such a fun community. It’s never too late to start. Um, so I would highly recommend, you know, looking up a couch to 5K program or, beginning triathlete program and joining groups on Facebook and things like that because it’ll bring so much to your life, uh, that it’s absolutely worth pursuing.
If you’ve ever had the inkling that you might wanna do something like, Sounds great. Thanks again so much for sharing your story and providing a little bit more information of, uh, of guiding the visually impaired. Appreciate Caroline. Absolutely. Thanks so much, Larry. Larry and Caroline. This, this has been amazing.
Caroline, Larry knows me very well, so I’ve got two things. He knows me very well. I, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to finish watching an Ironman. Well, that’s, so I’m impressed. I am blown away by what you have accomplished and what you do. And I can speak wholeheartedly to the tandem bicycle with your spouse thing.
There was, we’ve done it [00:22:00] once. Uh, there was so much wobble. Wobble on that bicycle. Yep. I won’t say who, but one of us peed their pants laughing a little bit. Okay. So it was, it was hilarious, but not productive. We didn’t go very far and we were done. So thank you for backing me up on that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. A hundred percent.
A hundred percent. Larry, have you been on Tana bike? I have not been on the 10th. Would you like to be on, on bike with me? Okay. We’ll have to try it back. Okay. As long as we see. I like Larry’s open to all sorts of things. Larry. Larry, I appreciate it. I appreciate your time and hosting this podcast. Thank you so much for doing that, Caroline.
You have been a fantastic guest. Um, and of course our last thank you. We’ll go to you listening audience, thank you so much for tuning in and listening to the Life Unlimited podcast with Larry Heller. If you’ve not subscribed to the podcast yet, please click the follow button below. This way when Larry comes out with a new podcast, it’ll show up there directly on your listening device.
And if you’re watching this on YouTube, we’d appreciate a like and a follow there as well. We humbly ask that you share this podcast. Rate it and leave a review cuz this helps other people find the show. Again, for everyone at Heller Wealth Management, this is Aric Johnson reminding you to [00:23:00] live your best day every day, and we’ll see you next time.