In a world obsessed with work-life balance, most of us could learn a thing or two from Triathlete Aaron Scheidies. Aaron is a physical therapist and a father to two young children, which already sounds like enough activity to fill the waking hours of an average person’s day. But he’s also a Paralympian, eight-time triathlon World Champion, and eight-time triathlon National Champion who’s competed in more than 200 races. As a professional athlete, Aaron has to put in hours each week to stay at the top of the pack in his sports. As a visually-impaired athlete, he appreciates the convenience of training with his TRX® Suspension Trainer™.
Becoming a Champion
Aaron competed in swimming and track as a student, and entered his first triathlon as a senior in high school. Even when he still had partial vision, preparing for the course was a challenge.
“When I started doing triathlons, I did them on my own. I had better vision than I do now, but I was legally blind and I did them on my own without a guide,” Aaron said. That meant he had to drive the cycling and running courses with his parents the night before a race and commit the landmarks to memory. On race days, he could also use the athletes around him to help him stay the course, following the splashes in the water, or the blurs as he passed his fellow competitors.
Aaron was hooked on the sport from the start.
“I guess triathlon is kind of like Pringles: once you pop, you can't stop,” he said.
Aaron continued competing in triathlons, starting the Michigan State University Triathlon Club while in college, and racing through college. In 2002, he learned that he could compete at the Triathlon World Championships as an athlete with a disability. But graduating to the global stage came with a caveat: Aaron, who had only ever raced alone until that point, would have to compete with a guide.
“As someone with visual impairment or a disability, you don't want to give up your independence,” Aaron explained. He struggled with the decision, and ultimately decided to give it guided competition a shot.
“It was probably the best thing I could do at the time, because, with a guide—having somebody as your vision—you can not worry about all the other things: safety, hitting things. You really perform to your potential,” he said.
Over the last two decades, Aaron has raced around the globe, broken the 2-hour time barrier in Olympic-distance triathlon—his record is 1:57:24, a world record for anyone with a disability— set an IronMan world record, and competed in cycling at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Racing With a Partner
If trusting a guide to be yours eyes in a sport sounds nerve-wracking… well, it is. Especially because a professional athlete like Aaron needs a guide—or pilot—with similar athletic ability. In other words, another elite athlete.
When Aaron began racing with a guide, finding the right partner was challenging. “It's a little bit like a dating game; like a reality TV show. At one time, when I was looking for guides, I really did make it a Facebook search. You’re always looking for a guide that's as good or better than you in all of the disciplines on their worst day. It became very difficult for me because as good or better than me on somebody's worst day is basically a professional.”
The guide-athlete partnership demands sacrifice: professional athletes have a limited window to compete and make money, and guides have to be willing to take time from their own sports, and risk injury while training for and competing in paratriathlons. There has to be a meeting of the minds, abilities, and personalities.
In positive news, Aaron said it’s become a little easier to find guide matches the Paralympic Games recognized Paratriathlon as a sport. “It's become more of a legit elite athletic competition. I think people over time have started to understand, There's a long way to go, but more and more pro athletes are going into guiding, um, especially toward the end of their careers. “
Training to Win
Every athlete’s training routine is different, and can vary with factors like age, body type, and how much time they have. Aaron is no different. Depending on the time of year and what competitions he has coming up, Aaron could train up to six days a week, and between one and four hours a day.
After 20 years of competition, Aaron noticed that he had become more injury prone. “My body couldn't take high, high volume.” For him, the tradeoff was less volume, higher intensity training. That approach also was a better fit for his busy schedule. “I'm not that Paralympic athlete that is only an athlete. I have always either been a full-time student or been a full-time employee as a physical therapist while I've still been racing and training,” he said.
The TRX Suspension Trainer is an omnipresent tool in Aaron’s program because it’s effective and portable: whether he’s traveling for competition or between appointments, he can use his Suspension Trainer to squeeze in a 15-minute core and lower body workout to supplement his other training. Instead of spending upwards on strength training in a traditional gym—plus the travel time to get to and from that space—he uses his straps to work out when and where it’s convenient.
“Lower ab work is super important for triathletes, especially swimming and biking.” For his core work, Aaron likes combos that include TRX Planks with a Saw, TRX Pikes, and Pendulum Swings with a pause at the top for extra effect. He also swears by TRX Plank-ups, to mimic the motion of changing handle bar positions on a bike, and circuits of TRX Single Leg Squats, Reverse Lunges, and Crossing Balance Lunges.
Guiding the Next Generation
Aaron Scheidies may be one of the senior statesmen in the paratriathlete world, but he shows no signs of slowing down. He’s still competing and taking his place on the podium, but he’s also willing to share his hard-earned wisdom with up-and-coming paratriathletes.
His advice for those who are new to the sport? Focus on the details.
“When you're getting to the top of any sport, the differences are so small between different competitors. The champions are the ones that realize all the little details and things that they can improve, and are basically a master of their craft. Everybody is so close at that level that it's the little things.”
TheParalympic Games in Tokyo will be an unusual experience compared to past games, given the restrictions the host committee has implemented to combat the spread of Covid-19. Where prior Games have been a moment for pageantry and celebration, this year’s Games have a subdued vibe, void of the usual cheers and crowds of spectators.
Regardless of the necessary health measures, Aaron reminds athletes to cherish the experience.
“You're in this complex with the greatest athletes in the world. Enjoy the moment, then focus on your competition.