How a vision-impaired triathlete took control of his swim training
"This is real swimming," Ryan asserts. He's been a triathlete for 25 years, starting in his 20s when he still had most of his vision. As his sight has progressively declined in clarity and range, he's persevered. For convenient access to his swimming training, he recently put an Endless Pools E550 swim spa in his backyard.
By swimming in place in his E550, Ryan finds, "I'm much better because I'm focused. The swim current has been beautiful that way, so I'm perfectly happy with it." Of course, it's been a long road for him to get to this place, and his journey – with triathlon and with his vision impairment – isn't over yet.
MAKING THE SMART INVESTMENT
Ryan recalls first discovering Endless Pools as a triathlon sponsor some 25 years ago, and he's wanted one of our pools or swim spas ever since.
"My parents have an outdoor pool, and I always dreamed of getting a Fastlane for it." Ryan means the Fastlane® Pro current system, which puts our Original pool's current into almost any traditional pool. When he was looking for his own swimming training, "it was between getting an above-ground pool and sticking a Fastlane in it versus the swim spa. Being in Canada, it was a no-brainer" because our swim spas have full temperature control for year-round use, even outdoors.
Ryan looked at "a high-end competitor of yours that the [sales rep] was super proud of. He turned on the jets, and I stuck my hand in. I thought, 'No.' Even my wife said, 'There's no way.'" They didn't find the current to have the smoothness or power for swimming training.
"It's hard to explain to people the current that you guys have until you experience it," Ryan says. "There are zero bubbles there. Zero. No turbulence."
Ryan's local Endless Pools dealer had our E700 swim spa full and ready for a swim. "I tested it out, and immediately I knew, 'OK, I'm getting an Endless Pools swim spa.'" But our 17-foot model wasn't quite right for him.
"Because I drift more than other swimmers – you know, being the blind guy – I kicked the seats a little bit." Fortunately, we have more spacious models in our Endless Pools Fitness Systems series. "The E550 was created with that extra width for the largest swim area that you guys have in your swim spas. I thought, 'That's exactly what I need.'"
RACING WITH DECLINING VISION
Ryan's journey with triathlon has been going on almost as long as his vision impairment. "I was born with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. When I was younger, I could see like everybody else except I had night blindness. And as I got older, the vision slowly decreased. I was able to race and essentially live a normal life up until my mid 20s.
"As my vision got worse, it's sort of like the world closes in. My peripheral vision has gotten smaller and smaller. Right now, my central vision is all that I have, and that vision is very blurry. It may stay the same, or it may completely go away. It will never get better, but it is what it is."
Ryan's had to adapt as his vision declined. He used to ride his bicycle solo. "I thought I saw fine, and then the next thing you know, you're picking yourself up off the ground because you hit a giant pothole."
When he's racing in a triathlon, Ryan has "different guides that will race with me. I swim with a tether. I ride a tandem, and then I run side by side with a tether." Thanks to his Endless Pools swim spa, he can do his swim training all by himself.
CREATING MOTIVATION WITH A SWIM SPA
Before getting his Endless Pools swim spa, Ryan found swim training challenging. The first reason was the commute to the pool. "When I could see better, I would ride," he recalls. "Once I wasn't able to ride my bike anymore, then I would just walk with my white cane."
The distance wasn't the obstacle for Ryan. "It's the mental energy. You're using every piece of energy you have. You're super focused. By the time you get to the pool, you've got this huge set in front of you, [but] mentally, I just want to close my eyes and take a nap. It really kills your motivation."
Another reason that swim training was a challenge: "I never enjoyed pool swimming," Ryan confesses. "I've done it. This is my 25th season in triathlon, and barring the last year, it has all been pool swimming. But for me, every time I hit the wall, I think, 'Well, I could get out now.'"
Of swimming with the Endless Pools current, Ryan says, "It's been fantastic. I love the current just for the fact that you don't have to stop." Swimming in place has led him "to be more consistent. "I did probably the second most swimming of my entire career last year without ever doing any races. There were just small swims and lots of them, which would be impossible to do at a regular pool.
"The feedback you get for body position is really good. [Off season,] you lose your body position, your streamline, and your core engagement. That's what I find has been the best with the Endless Pool: It's really helped me maintain that all year long."
INTERVAL SWIM TRAINING
When Ryan was considering his swim spa customization, "I had to pick what was a need versus a want. I knew the [Endless Pools] Fit@Home® app was a need."
The app lets you pre-program interval workouts: you can vary between sprint and recovery paces for more challenging and effective swim workouts. Ryan calls it "Brilliant! I can't imagine using this thing without it. I use that all the time. I program my workouts and go.
"I'm really curious to see how the pool will work for me as I really start to build distances, and that's where the [Endless Pools] Fit@Home app is good."
SWIMMING FOR EFFICIENCY AND ENDURANCE
When it comes to Endless Pools swimming versus traditional pool swimming, Ryan says, "The only thing that is majorly different is I don't get the glide. It just makes it more efficient. In a pool, as you get tired, what do you do? You try to push harder off the wall, so you get a bit more glide, right? So you get that little extra rest." By contrast, the uninterrupted swimming in his E550 swim spa is "a very efficient workout for sure."
When he's actually swimming and not gliding, the experience is basically the same, he finds. "My muscle recruitment in my back and my arms is still the same. They're still getting worked.
"I find the current great. It feels natural – obviously as natural as swimming in place can feel. It certainly meets my expectations."
THE BIG QUESTION
As an Endless Pools customer for just over a year, Ryan gets asked a reasonable question about his swim spa: Is it a good purchase? "Sometimes people think that this type of equipment is maybe two boutique or too out of reach and not applicable," he's heard. "I'm just an average guy with average wages. But I invested in that instead of another car because I don't need a car. It's been amazing one year on.
"There are cheaper options out there," he observes, "but there are cheaper options of everything out there. I'm a big believer of, 'You pay for it once, and you do it right the first time.' It's just a very well-built machine.
"It's going to be a fantastic tool as I train for my first full real year of real racing with it." We'll see the results soon as Ryan gets back to competition. He's already signed up for this year's IRONMAN Canada and the Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon.