Triathlete prepares for world titles
Beth's race against time
Triathlete Beth White’s world title ambition means more to her than the time on the clock as she crosses the finishing line.
For the mother of three, who is blind, it is a way she can help raise funds and awareness about the rare genetic eye condition her children who are beginning to also lose their sight have – a completely different and personal race against time.
Beth has risen to the top of the triathlon ranks after only two years competing in the gruelling sport. Now the massage therapist has qualified for the 2016 ITU Paratriathlon World Championships in Rotterdam, where she will be the only totally blind triathlete competing.
Although she has achieved an amazing feat in such a short time, the newest member of the Guide Dogs Public Relations Speaker team, remains modest. “I’m just a mum trying to raise awareness of my childrens’ condition and anything I can do to raise funds goes directly to medical research,” Beth said.
Beth began to lose her sight at five years old and was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) - she now knows this is not the condition she has. When her children were born they were all tested for RP and the results came back clear, a huge relief to Beth and her husband.
Then their eye health began to deteriorate and it was discovered they, along with Beth, have a very rare genetic disease. So rare it doesn’t have a name.
Medical scientists are working on a cure and Beth is doing her best to fundraise to help progress the outcome in the hope her childrens’ sight, and that of others, can be saved. All three of her children are currently experiencing vision loss to various degrees and without a cure they will go blind.
An active and independent life
In the meantime, she is leading by example on how to enjoy an active and independent life, no matter what obstacles you have to overcome. Something she has always done.
As a youngster Beth was very active. “I rode my bike everywhere. I only stopped when I was about 11 when it became a little dangerous as I couldn’t see the path in front of me,” she said. Wakeboarding, surfing and swimming were just some of the outdoor sports she then took up.
Beth’s eyesight continued to deteriorate through her teenage years and at the age of 20 she contacted Guide Dogs NSW/ACT for support. “I probably needed help before this point, but I was in denial. Everyone except me recognised I was losing my vision,” she said.
As the leading provider of Guide Dogs and other services that enable people with impaired vision to get around their communities safely and independently, the organisation tailored a program to meet Beth’s needs. An Orientation and Mobility Specialist taught her how to use a long white cane and then she received her first Guide Dog, Oakes, which cost the organisation $35,000 to breed, raise and train.
“The independence I have gained from receiving help from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, especially my Guide Dogs Oakes, Teena and now Queenie, has been life changing for me and my family,” she said. “Queenie gives the kids and I so much ability to function on a day to day basis. We are able to get to school, sporting events, do the shopping, get to medical appointments and much more.”
Taking on a new challenge
With her children at school, Beth took up boot camp training. “I decided I wanted to do something for myself, as a way to make sure I was a well-rounded and happy mother,” she said.
It was here she met a man who had just completed an iron man competition and she toyed with the idea of doing something similar. A discussion with one of the mother’s from her son’s rugby club, a personal trainer, turned this concept into a reality.
That personal trainer, Melissa, is now her triathlon guide and together the pair have placed in the top rankings at a number of competitions. “We are definitely getting competitive now as we start to compete on an international level,” Beth said.
Each paratriathlete is placed in a category according to the level of their vision loss. In Beth’s case this is B1 as she has no vision. “Some of the women I compete against are able to run on their own,” she said.
Beth hopes to finish in the top ten places in Rotterdam.
She is currently training five days a week, building up to six. Two of these days are with her guide and the others she is tasked with a run, swim or ride.
To complicate things further, Beth does not sweat due to the genetic condition she has, so she needs to be careful when running on hot days.
However she said the only thing that would slow her down in Rotterdam was nerves. “I know that’s what I need to work on. I will focus on the great feeling I experience when I’ve finished each race,” Beth said.
No matter where she finishes, Beth will have an inspirational story to tell schools, clubs and seniors groups, as part of her Public Relations Speaker role with Guide Dogs, where she will also speak about the services provided by the organisation to anyone who needs them at no cost.
With 28 Australians diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss every day, including nine who become blind, the most common program offered by Guide Dogs is showing people with impaired vision how to safely move through different environments, using a range of mobility aids and electronic devices.