I participated in Ironman 7.30 with the intention of achieving inclusion in sports
“My message to other people with different abilities is that you should start with smaller competitions in your cities and towns: several career and sports events are organized for them. When others see that visually impaired/disabled people run or ride a bicycle with them, it creates awareness and also sensitizes them. ”N - Niket Dalal
One day in life Niket Dalal involves getting up at 5 am in the morning, going to your swimming and running practice or cycling around Fort Deogiri, before going to work. The afternoons are dedicated to upper body exercises. The little time he manages to squeeze from work, physical form and family, he spends playing his guitar, singing and writing.
One might wonder what is special about this routine. Niket, 38, has visual problems and lost his sight from glaucoma five years ago. National swimmer and triathlete, he recently fulfilled his dream of becoming the first blind Indian Ironman in the Ironman 70.3 held in Dubai earlier this month. Niket, along with his sighted ally Arham Shaikh, completed the triathlon: swimming, cycling and running in 7 hours and 44 minutes, thus securing second place in the category of athlete with different abilities, while competing alongside athletes without disabilities.
I have lost my sight but not the vision
“During the last seconds of the race, I could only hear‘ India! India! In the crowd and that feeling was incredible. I still get goosebumps, ”says the speech therapist and disability counselor based in Aurangabad, who had been training in a Pune-based academy founded by athlete Chaitanya Velhal. I decided to do Ironman about a year ago and I have been training for the competition since October 2019 in Pune under the guidance of Chaitanya and Arham, who was my sight during training and the race. I came to Pune on the weekends and during the last phase of the training, I had moved here, ”says Niket, whom we met last weekend at Pimple Saudagar. So, how exactly did they complete the race? Niket and Arham were tied with a belt and had to swim side by side in open sea waters for 1.9 km. This was followed by a rapid transition to the 90km bike race, where Niket and his partner rode a tandem/double bike. The last component of the race where the duo had to run a distance of 21.1 km, a tube in the form of '8', created by Niket, was used around their waists, so that Arham could lead on the track.
Niket, who emphasizes: I have lost sight but not vision, says that his idea of participating in Ironman and representing India on an international platform arose from the fact that there is a lack of inclusion in sports. “There is almost no representation of disabled athletes worldwide when it comes to endurance-based sports. The first Ironman was made by a healthy Indian athlete over a decade ago and since then, there has been no participation of any disabled athlete there. I wanted to do this to show that disability is not always an obstacle: if we are given the opportunity and support, we can also bring medals to the country. I participated in the Ironman 70.3 with the intention of achieving inclusion in sports, ”he emphasizes.
Mutual trust is the core of this partnership.
Arham, who is an international athlete and one of the fastest ultra cyclists in the country, admits that training to become an ally for a person with visual impairment was difficult. However, it emphasizes that while training technicalities were important, it is vital to be able to feel what a person with visual impairment cannot see or perceive is vital. “Mutual trust is the core of this association. However, on the first day of our training, when we had to swim in open water in a lake, which had to be crossed walking on a board to reach the jetty, I assumed that Niket would do it alone. As soon as I took a few steps, I heard him slip and fall into the water. I realized that I had made a terrible mistake and that it was important to learn and unlearn some things in order to understand Niket, his needs, strengths and weaknesses and then concentrate on his training accordingly. While there are no major changes in the structure his training because Niket had to train as a healthy person, it was his coach and partner who had to walk that extra mile. “Swimming was his strength, he had also done long distance cycling, but we had to work in his career. He was preparing exactly like everyone else. It was I who had to adapt to certain changes. For example, riding a tandem bicycle and keeping up was a challenge, although two people pedaled it, given the weight of the bicycle, it is difficult to compete. I have done a couple of triathlons, but this was different and difficult. It was more about being in sync, coordinating and communicating well, says Arham, who can't wait to partner with Niket again for future competitions.
Currently, at number 5 in the world rankings, Niket is preparing for the Super Randonneur series, which is a long distance bike and also plans to do the complete Ironman challenge.
Lack of support and the need for awareness. Niket hopes that their participation and record will not only inspire an increase in sports participation of people with disabilities, but will also see government agencies and NGOs that promote them. “Unlike a person with physical abilities, triathletes with different abilities need to invest money both in themselves and in their partners or allies. From the training fee to nutrition, the special equipment and the airline rate, we have to pay twice the money spent on the preparation. If a policy is designed in which we obtain a concession on air tickets and the charges that are charged for carrying that special equipment, it would be a great motivation. In addition, I urge the government to support athletes with disabilities to shine in triathlons and Paralympic Games, ”he says.
For his training, Niket had to take regular work permits and, often, his department, which is a government employee, did not support him. I do not blame them. People in the government sector are unaware of this type of sports. Since cricket in India is larger than all other sports, their knowledge of triathlons and endurance sports is limited, hence the lack of recognition, he notes, and adds: However, it would be a mistake to expect the things change overnight if people start thinking about something as simple as giving us (athletes with special needs) some space on the track, or stopping cars and bicycles when we are crossing a signal during a race, not just It will help us to perform better but will also encourage other athletes with different abilities to go out and participate in race events.
Niket also feels that it is important for him to raise awareness about glaucoma and its early detection. My eyeballs were removed in 2015, but I realized that glaucoma can be treated and early detection and treatment can help save vision among people. Through races and triathlons, I would like to spread the message that, too, he adds.
He is also excited about his book that has just finished. Cycling is a sport that I only practiced last year and I ended up participating in the exhausting cycling expedition from Manali to Khardungala in August 2019. My book is based on this, which I thought was worth sharing, he adds.