by Kathy Farina
Megan Hale, a member of the Capital District chapter of ACB of New York, is a young woman with a purpose. She feels that young blind women should be able to participate in sports if they choose. Recently, Megan informed our chapter about completing an Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid, N.Y. in July 2022. We were intrigued.
Triathlon is an endurance sport consisting of three different disciplines: swimming, cycling and running. Participants must complete timed sessions of all three sports in a given amount of time. The Ironman consists of a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike race, then a 26-mile run. The total distance is 140 miles, which must be completed in 17 hours. Megan completed her Ironman in 16 hours, 58 minutes and one second.
How did Megan get to this point? This sport is not for the faint of heart.
Megan has Leber congenital amaurosis, an inherited eye condition causing loss of peripheral vision and difficulty seeing details. Her school district was hesitant to allow her to participate in physical education. Over the summer, she attended a special camp for children who are visually impaired called Camp Abilities in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she discovered that physical education can be adapted to allow those with visual impairments to participate along with their sighted peers. Eventually, Megan and her parents convinced the school to let her participate in physical education.
As a middle schooler, Megan joined the track team. She participated in track all through high school. Her guide dog, Hero, is from Guiding Eyes for the Blind. He is a specially trained running dog, and guides Megan on shorter races. During her years as a camper and counselor at Camp Abilities, Megan met folks who competed in triathlons and decided to try it.
“I’ve met some wonderful people and made friends who inspire and encourage me along the way,” Megan said. Her guide for the Ironman race was a science teacher who had done 19 of these events. He had never guided a blind person before, but “we learned as we went along and developed our training methods.” Training took 40 hours a week for about three months before the race, including riding a tandem bike. “I will start earlier next time and gradually ramp up my training before the race,” she added.
Currently a senior at the State University of New York at Brockport, Megan is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in adapted physical education. She plans to go to graduate school to become a teacher of the visually impaired. She feels that, as a teacher of the visually impaired with experience in adapted physical education, she can empower blind and visually impaired children to reach their full potential, both physically and mentally. She hosts a podcast on Microsoft Teams for one hour once a month for girls ages 12 to 18. Topics covered range from nutrition to health to social skills. She calls this the Blind Girl Empowerment Program. For more information, contact Megan at [email protected].