I Didn’t Know That I Didn’t Know

Diane and Dina race day

Diane Berberian (left) competes in the ITU World Championship with her guide, Dina (right). Diane faced sensory overload when she traveled to London for the championship, but she learned to adjust to the new environment and work with Dina to gear up for the race.

Post written by Diane Berberian

Every time that I stepped outside of my comfort zone over the past two years has provided me with the best lessons. What I am about to share is what I learned from my travel to London to participate in the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Championship.

I really thought that I would not have any issues. I’d traveled, and I’d traveled to a race. Therefore, I thought, “I’m prepared!”

WRONG! I have never traveled outside the United States, nor had I participated in an ITU race with its multiple-loop bike course. London would provide me with little to NO color contrast due to grey skies and rain (my vision is better when I have color).

I was dependent on my cane and my guide, Dina, to increase my safety. The streets and sidewalks were crowded, and for some reason my people wore black clothing. I thought, so now I have too much motion in my line of vision and dark colors? Not good!

The sounds of the city were “foreign” to me. Cars approaching from another side of the road? Even the birds were sounding different to me. I was not afraid, but I would learn on my second day that I was experiencing some sensory overload and that I use my hearing more than I realize to help me see. I have some usable peripheral vision, but never did I realize that I am assisted a lot from my hearing.

Dina and I took the tandem into Hyde Park. There were cars, other athletes riding, people on foot and bicycle commuting, race staff setting up the course, animals, traffic sounds and Dina trying to communicate with me about the bike course. I could pay attention to her commands as I was also trying to hear all the other unfamiliar sounds. I was a mess. I felt nervous and agitated; my body was stiff and awkward. I had never felt this before, and I did not want to pedal one more stroke.  I had to get off the bike now. Dina tried to get me to continue but I could not. I needed to figure this out; this was not me.

Dina took the tandem and went to check out more of the bike course while I sat on a curb and cried. Once I quieted my mind, I realized that I was overloaded with too much information.

Dina returned to a calm Diane as I realized that I was using my mind and ears to see. I knew what I needed to do now to be successful on race day. I needed to stop trying to see. After all, this is why my guide is with me!

My coach Jeff suggested that we go on the course on foot with Dina describing what she is seeing with my eyes closed. I learned to accept those other sounds but use Dina’s voice as the important information.

On race day, I was fine. Yes, I heard many sounds but priority one would be Dina. On the tandem, I did not pick my head up and had to ignore anything that my vision would pick up in my peripheral vision.

I feel very fortunate to continue to travel outside my comfort zone so I can continue to grow and become confident in my skills. I wonder where I will be for the next lesson.

Diane Berberian is a visually impaired Ironman triathlete and the self-described “Iron Maven.” Follow her blog.