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The Blind Triathlete – Nathan Johnston’s story

When I lost my eyesight as a child I had two choices, to sit back and feel sorry for myself or to stand up and face the oncoming challenges. I chose the latter.

My parents, two siblings and I grew up in Stanwell Tops, a small township in Helensburgh, which is located 45 kilometres south of Sydney. As a family we were very fortunate to live in a community that was extremely supportive and helpful throughout my upbringing. Like most kids, my relationship with my parents was up and down as I progressed through my adolescence. At times I found it difficult, as I was the only one in my family with a sight impairment disability. But at the end of the day, my family was always there and to this day they continue to support me through my journey.

As a highly driven individual with a desire to motivate others it was extremely important for me to find my own passion and inspire people along the way. Originally that passion and want to compete came in the form of running. I was just finishing school between the ages of 17 and 18 when I came across a man named Albert "Albie" Thomas. Albie was a former track athlete at the Olympics between the 1950s and 1960s. The first thing he had me doing was walking and jogging laps around the sports field at the St. George Athletics Club.  

“You will be right to run two kilometres,” Albie said to me in one of my first sessions. I remember thinking; “I’ve never run that far in my life”. Those two kilometres were extremely tough for me 12 years ago, but in that moment I knew that I had found my calling.

At first I didn’t realise how hard running was. I knew that it was based on distance and speed but I was fairly oblivious to the mechanics of the sport, from the importance of nutrition, to your stride and choosing the appropriate footwear, there were several factors that I had to learn.

It is vital that you consume the right nutrients for each race, in many long-distance events I have seen my friends either not finish the race or end up in hospital due to poor nutrition before and during the event. For me, you need to learn from your own experience and see what works for you personally. It is really important to get the right sugar, sodium and liquid balance to ensure that you remain hydrated and your body doesn’t fatigue too early from a lack of consumed energy.

Choosing the most suitable footwear for each event is absolutely crucial, as you need to find the right balance between comfort and stability. For the past five years I have relied heavily on the Mizuno Wave Rider, it is the most comfortable shoe over long distances as it provides me with the cushioning and durability I need run after run.

Through Albie I met a man called Glenn Gorick, these two men have been my main mentors throughout my career and have pushed me not only physically but also mentally throughout my journey. Glenn has helped me instil belief in myself and inspired me to not only compete at the national level but also the international level. From local fun runs and triathlons to the Hawaiian Ironman, I have achieved a lot in a relatively short period of time.

Most recently, I competed in the City to Surf in Sydney. For me, the City to Surf is one of the most enjoyable races on my calendar. I have run marathons and competed in Ironman’s and triathlons around the world, but there is something special about this event. Not only is it in my hometown, but it’s also the biggest fun run in the southern hemisphere attracting over 80,000 people. It is a high-profile event that allows people from all walks of life to participate, which is what I love most.

The most difficult aspect of running is having 100% trust in my guides, for an event as large as the City to Surf this becomes even more important. My training for the event consists of treadmill running at home, sprints at the gym or trail and road runs with my usual group of six to eight guides. On race day I ran with five guides, two aiding me at all times either side of me, one guide in front of me and the other protecting me from behind. The communication between my guides and I is extremely important, through verbal and physical cues they alert me of oncoming obstacles.

In this year’s City to Surf we found the middle of the road and just kept on running, my guides were extremely important in keeping the crowd at bay. I couldn’t believe how quickly we hit the seven-kilometre mark but by the time we hit the last kilometre I was fatiguing due to an injury plagued preparation. Last year we approached ‘heartbreak hill’ too quickly and we were walking by the time we hit the top, but those are the lessons you learn through experience.

I remember Ash from Mizuno Marketing saying, “keep it up mate, keep it up” as we approached the top of the hill.

The one thing I love about competing is the adrenaline rush and the personal achievement that you gain once you cross the finish line. There will come a time that you are hurting during the race but spectators and your support staff will motivate you and push you through to the finishing line.

I finished the race in 79 minutes; I still can’t believe I cracked a new PB. I was really hurting in that last kilometre but I managed to knock five minutes off my previous result at the event. There really is no greater feeling than the sense of achievement.

As important as competing is to me, it is equally important for me to inspire others. Sometimes I may find it difficult to get up in the morning, but I am motivated by the fact that there are people out there who see me as their role model. I understand that I will not inspire everyone that I talk to, but if I am able to help at least two or three people at a time I am pretty satisfied.


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