Gerrard Gossens with guide Dmitri Simons.
Gerrard Gosens is recognised as one of the most outstanding people in Australia today. Congenitally blind, Gerrard became Australia's youngest guide dog recipient at age sixteen. Since then he has gone on to scale Everest, Danced with the Stars
and competed for Australia in four Paralympic Games and six world championships.
Below Gerrard outlines his experience at the 2017 Para-triathlon World Championships in Rotterdam, NL.
A recent chain reaction led to me training for and participating in triathlons, and the opportunity to represent Australia at the Para-triathlon sprint World Championships in Rotterdam on the weekend. I learnt many lessons from the race - one being that it is important to know what message we ‘pedal’.
A message that was pedalled to me ten months ago was that it would be impossible to be selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Para-Triathlon World Championships.
I of course didn’t back-pedal from these comments, but put the foot down and got on with my goal of qualifying for the 2017 World Championships.
I increased my training cadence across swimming, cycling, and running; creating an internal message of ‘what if?’ My teams’ support and commitment to cranking up this output achieved good results in our performances over the next eight months, and resulted in selection for the 2017 World Championships. The earlier ‘impossible’ messages that were being pedalled had gone complete circle, and were ultimately derailed.
On arriving in Rotterdam we were met with very cold, wet and windy conditions. The first training session on the bike and run course was a good opportunity to experience the many sections of cobble stones and many corners on the bike course.
Our only opportunity for a swim session was in a 25m open air pool and with the water temperature at 16 degrees and air temperature of 12 degrees, it was a mental and physical challenge.
I reminded myself of the many 5am swim sessions I had completed during winter at my local Yeronga swimming pool when the air temperature was six degrees.
The swim and bike course familiarisation was held in horrific weather conditions the day before the race. I had many internal messages being pedalled through my thoughts, as I swam through the angry chop of waves. Our cycle over the bike course in cold drenching rain magnified the many sections of cobblestones, and sharp corners we would have to negotiate throughout the course.
The morning of race day, I was pedalling many thoughts: The unpleasant weather conditions, our race plan and processes, equipment checks and transition set up, race registration, pre-race energy intake, toilet, and race warm up. The very cold and wet conditions delayed the race start by an hour, which increased the speed of the messages that were being pedalled through my thoughts.
The only thought I had while walking to the jetty for the start of the triathlon was how I would feel for the first five seconds of the race.
I blocked out any thoughts of the rain, wind, and cold water.
The start of the race was an explosion of energy with our single thought of getting to the front. After the first five seconds, I refocused my thoughts onto each swim stroke, my body position in the water, and tension on the swim tether with my guide, Dmitri. I had no room for any thoughts on how far we had gone, or where my other competitors were in the water, as these would only be distractions.
I contained my thoughts to tiny pieces of the triathlon, going from the swim to the transition area, to the cycle, to the second transition, and then onto the run. Each internal message had to be clear on what I had to focus on, at that moment of the triathlon.
We placed ninth overall, and I was the third totally blind competitor, which was a great result at the World Championships after only 20 months in the sport.
The internal messages in triathlons are very different to my past pursuits as a Paralympic distance runner. While the intensity, energy output and goal of winning are the same, our internal communications are structured and pedalled with a different cadence.
As an accomplished athlete, motivational speaker, and ambassador for people with disability, Gerrard lives by the philosophy, ‘success is a journey, not a destination’. Read more about Gerrard's journey: How a blind man sees.