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Blind Triathlete From Greenwich Aims To Finish New York Race

Greenwich's Amy Dixon is preparing for her first Olympic distance triathlon this weekend in New York. Photo Credit: Contributed by Amy Dixon
Amy Dixon Photo Credit: Contributed by Amy Dixon

GREENWICH, Conn. – With her sight deteriorating and her weight escalating late last year, Greenwich’s Amy Dixon faced a mountain of frustration. But a change in medication to help a thyroid condition and chance meeting with a triathlon coach put her back on a healthy path.

Dixon, who has less than 1 percent vision, will race Sunday in the New York City Triathlon. She competed in her first triathlon, a sprint distance event, last month in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. The New York race is an Olympic distance with a 1.5-kilometer (0.93-mile) swim, 40k (24.8-mile) bike ride and 10k (6.2-mile) run.

Dixon has lost most of her sight over the past 15 years. Last year, she had several surgeries for uveitis, an inflammation of the uvea, one of the three concentric layers that comprise an eye. Because of the surgeries and advancing glaucoma, she was unable to exercise. She gained 45 pounds, as her adrenal glands and thyroid reacted to medication and surgery. “Because of the surgeries on my eyes, the only thing I could do was aqua jog,’’ Dixon said.

Late last fall, a physician recommended a change in her prescription. “That was the missing piece to the puzzle,’’ Dixon said. “I was grateful when I got on the right medication. I wasn’t eating myself out of house and home. Once I was on the right medication, my energy was a lot better.”

Dixon jogged in the pool at the Greenwich YMCA and slowly transitioned to a spin bike. “I’d hop on when no one else was looking because I was so overweight,’’ she said. In January, she attended a spinning fundraiser in Danbury for disabled veterans. She met Caroline Gaynor, the triathlon director for Team Red, White and Blue, which supports veterans when they return from combat.

Gaynor encouraged Dixon, who did not serve in the military, to race a triathlon. “I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ We signed up for Sleepy Hollow and I was pleasantly surprised. I was ready for the next one.”

Gaynor rides with Dixon on a tandem bike. The women are tethered when they run and swim. “She’s my eyes and ears,’’ Dixon said. “She tells me when there’s a pothole coming up, or if there’s a tree stump. We just communicate a lot.”

In just a few months, Dixon has developed a broad network of supporters. Greenwich Triathlon Club swim coach Joanne Dondero has worked with Dixon, and EHS Tri, based at Greenwich’s Elite Health Services, has offered to sponsor her. Dave’s Cycle and Fitness in Cos Cob worked on the 35-year-old tandem bike donated by a paratriahlon coach to Dixon  to make it more suitable for triathlons.

Dixon also trains with Achilles International in New York, a team that supports athletes who are visually impaired and have other physical challenges. She has received a scholarship from The Challenge Athletes Foundation to attend a camp next month in San Diego for para-triathletes. On Tuesday, Dixon and Gaynor were featured in a national morning news show.

“These last seven months or so have been a whirlwind,’’ Dixon said. “I still have a little bit of sight left. My goal is to finish the Olympic distance triathlon while I can still appreciate it a little bit.”

Dixon’s new triathlon path is not her only change. A sommelier, she plans to open The Wine Lab in Darien in late fall or early winter.  She has also found a new group of friends in the triathlon community.

“I’m surprised how generous everyone has been with their time,’’ Dixon said. “It’s a wonderful camaraderie. The veterans I meet with Team Red, White and Blue are amazing. They’re home from Afghanistan and Iraq and they want to feel some sort of connection with me. I just feel so blessed that incredible people have come into my life at different times.”

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