Ironman Western Australia: Blind triathlete’s guide on steep learning curve I video

John Domandl, left, and Paul McGlynn at Eleebana on Thursday. Picture: Michael Parris

John Domandl, left, and Paul McGlynn at Eleebana on Thursday. Picture: Michael Parris

As if swimming 3.8km, riding 180km then running a marathon isn’t hard enough, imagine navigating someone else through the whole thing while you’re at it.

That will be Paul McGlynn’s role when he and fellow 56-year-old John Domandl take on the Ironman Western Australia in Busselton on December 4.

McGlynn, from Valentine, has finished 14 ironmans, including at the world championships in Hawaii this year, and is ranked in the top five in his age group in Australia.

Domandl, from Eleebana, has a degenerative eye condition and is legally blind. The 1988 Paralympics pentathlete has finished two ironmans and a three-day, 515km ultraman among a host of achievements.

In WA they will contest their first ironman together, aiming to set the fastest time in the world for a vision-impaired athlete of any age. And when McGlynn enters the water with Domandl next to Busselton Jetty, he will be diving into the unknown.

“The longer you get into an ironman triathlon, the brain works less,” McGlynn said on Thursday. “You’re really concentrating on yourself. You’re going, ‘I’m really in a world of hurt here.’ After the bike, 21km into the run, it’s all mental. And all your body’s trying to do is say stop.

“With John and I, we’re concentrating on each other as well as ourselves. It’s significantly harder. The other week we were running over in Speers Point Park and I forgot about a low-lying branch, and bang. I said, ‘Sorry, mate. I was watching the ground for you.’”

They hope to better 11 hours and eight minutes in WA, which is surprisingly close to McGlynn’s best time of 10 hours and 40 minutes.

2015 Ironman WA, Busselton

Domandl’s custom-made, carbon-fibre tandem is faster in a straight line than a solo bike but more cumbersome on hills and corners. He said the bike leg was particularly challenging for his partner, who controls the steering, gears and brakes.

“Everything Paul sees with his eyes, he has to relay to me,” he said. “He’s riding for two. He’s not riding out there on a small seven-kilo bike. He has to think twice as hard from the start right the way to the finish, for 11 hours.

“It’s going to be a big learning curve for him, even though we’ve done a lot of training together.”

The two joined forces six months ago after Newcastle Triathlon Club sent out an email seeking a new guide for Domandl.

“I thought, ‘I wouldn’t mind having a crack at that,’” McGlynn said. “I was a bit scared that I’d be a bit slow for him or that we wouldn’t get on, because you’ve really got to click quickly.

“Triathlon, by its very nature, is an individual sport, but racing with John, it’s a team, and both of us have got to rely on each other to cross that line.

“It’s such a lonely sport, but this is really good. We’re always yakking.”

Domandl and McGlynn will be tethered by a 900-millimetre leg rope during the swim around Busselton’s 2km jetty, and they will not have the benefit of drafting in the water like the solo competitors.

Part of the challenge for Domandl is racking up the training miles to compete in endurance races.

“That’s one of the things with being visually impaired; you can’t just put your shoes on and go for a run by yourself,” he said. “You have to rely on other people to train with you, and that’s why it’s hard for a legally blind person to do the distances.

“I’ve done 10-hour sessions on spin bikes at home and run marathons on treadmills. Some people can’t get their head around that, but that’s the mental training. I’ve gone to athletics tracks and run a hundred 400 metres – 40km on an athletics track.”  

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