GREENWICH, Conn. – Just 18 months ago, Amy Dixon was fighting weight gain, diminishing vision and minimal motivation to get fit. On Sunday, the Greenwich woman will represent the United States in the Pan American Triathlon Confederation championships in Dallas.
The Dallas race is just the beginning of a busy summer for Dixon, 38, who raced her first triathlon last June. With assistance from Elite Health Services and coach Jon Stellwagen, she has blossomed into one of the nation’s top para-triathletes.
“It’s still happening at warp speed,’’ said Dixon, who competes with a guide and travels everywhere with her trusted Guiding Eyes dog, Elvis. “It’s been an amazing, fun ride. I think being open to saying yes to every opportunity has been key. All those times I said yes to opportunities has opened so many doors. All these little connections have made it all possible.”
Dixon’s story was featured in The Wall Street Journal, the "Today" show and Fox News. Earlier this month, she traveled to the USA Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train with her new tandem pilot, Lindsey Cook. The United States Association of Blind Athletes has established a website for Dixon and Cook to purchase a tandem bike and support their racing season. Readers can donate online. Caroline Gaynor will be Dixon's pilot for Sunday's race.
She plans to race in the USA Cycling Championships in July, and could be named this week to represent the U.S. in the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Chicago in June.
“The biggest surprise over the past year is how I’ve changed my fitness,’’ said Dixon, who has dropped more than 40 pounds. “I’m doing things I never imagined in my lifetime. Like running 13 miles. I had no aspirations at all of being able to run that long, even if I was being chased. It has made losing the rest of my eyesight so less intimidating.”
Dixon started working with Greenwich-based EHS last year, and Stellwagen took over in January as her full-time coach. “What I like most about her is she’s very nonchalant about all of her accomplishments,’’ Stellwagen said. “She’s the most driven person I’ve ever seen, whether it’s in triathlon, business, or anything. It’s no surprise whatsoever. She sets a task, and she gets it done.”
There were moments when Dixon did not know whether she would even have a summer triathlon season. From September to February, physicians performed seven procedures on her failing eyesight. She was in and out of hospitals, with no guarantee that anything would help save what little vision remained. Dixon said her physician warned her of potential repercussions.
“The biggest concern is being in open water,’’ Dixon said. “The doctor said, 'you’ve got open stitches in your eye, we don’t want you putting goggles on your face. Your eye is so delicate right now.' We argued back and forth, and I eventually won.”
Dixon’s medical condition has stabilized over the past three months, but she remains cautious. “The pressure has improved,’’ she said. “But it could all collapse at any time. It’s the line that I walk. Worrying about it won’t make it any better.”
Dixon finds inspiration from other disabled athletes. Team Red, White and Blue, for which she competes, features many military veterans who race despite serious physical limitations.
“I met a lot of wounded veterans at the Olympic Training Center who are doing amazing things and are extremely successful,’’ she said. “They’re doing things most able-bodied people would not even bother tackling. It’s so inspirational to learn from them and have them mentor me. One thing I learned in business (she’s a successful sommelier) is to surround yourself with people smarter than you.”
Dixon hopes to compete in an Ironman next year, and could earn a berth on the U.S. Paralympic Team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Even when Dixon fought her vision issues, Stellwagen stayed confident the determined triathlete would find her way back to competition.
“My nervousness was that she wouldn’t compete at the level she wants to and desires to,’’ he said. “It set her back a week here or there, but she picked right up where she left off. All that she goes through, it doesn’t even come into consideration. I push her as hard as anyone else. That’s what I love about her. She’s by far my favorite. You don’t recognize she doesn’t have any limitations.”