Luke Watson gives us the low-down on what its like to be Iain Dawson’s guide.
I’m delighted to be chosen to blog for TriRadar.com and will be documenting my triathlon journey on a monthly basis right here. I’m currently in my 8th season of triathlon and race elite level over Sprint & Olympic distance in the UK & abroad. I’m studying for a Chemical Engineering degree at Loughborough University; however, in between studies I train with the Loughborough Triathlon performance squad and have recently qualified as a British Triathlon coach. I also race as a guide for the VI (visually-impaired) Paratriathlon category, and guided Iain Dawson to gold at both the World & European Triathlon Championships last year.
People often ask, ‘how do you guide someone?’ closely followed by ‘why do you do it?’
It’s pretty simple really; I swim side by side with the VI athlete, tethered at the ankle, the bike is ridden on a tandem (I ride the front, for safety reasons of course!) and on the run, we are again tethered and run side by side. Up until this year the VI athletes had to deal with wearing ‘blackout glasses’ on the run, to level the playing field regarding sight, although that requirement has been scrapped for this year. The way I see it is that it’s my job to ensure the athlete is able to complete every section of the race as fast as they are able to, so I have to make sure I’m fast enough in each section, as well as in transition, where I’ll take responsibility for the tandem and other equipment, such as tethers.
I got into guiding at the end of 2011, shortly after Paratriathlon had been confirmed for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Paralympic Games; I saw the article on the front of Tri News and thought that I’d love to give it a go. I got put in touch with Iain, who was happy to give me a chance on the front of the tandem and things developed from there. I’ve always enjoyed competing in team events, something that is relatively uncommon in triathlon, so it’s a great opportunity to race as part of a team. I also really enjoy racing the major championship races in fantastic locations – last year’s World Championships was in Auckland, New Zealand and this year’s will be at home in London, so it’s sure to be an incredible atmosphere. Winning the world title was definitely a career highlight – the rush as we ran down the blue carpet on the finish chute was fantastic!
These are exciting times for Paratriathlon, especially in Britain. We’re already the world’s leading nation, and with the start of the four-year cycle leading to Rio, UK Sport funding has kicked in for the programme, providing more opportunities and support for all the athletes involved. We recently had our first camp in Loughborough and there was a distinct buzz around the squad. We have a world-class support team, full of ideas and innovation, so are looking forward to the next four years, and hoping to continue to lead the way. There are sure to be a number of changes over the next couple of years; with new athletes, rules, classifications & equipment. Indeed, I have just started working with a new VI athlete, Dave Ellis, who has come across from the Paralympic Swimming programme. It will be an exciting journey for everyone involved in GB Paratriathlon; I’m delighted to be involved!
It’s just about time to start racing, so I wish you all every success in your endeavours. I’m sure some of you will be aiming to join me in experiencing the home crowd in London in September; if you see a couple of guys riding round London on a tandem be sure to give us a cheer!