RAC­ING TRIATHLON IS de­mand­ing enough as it is, but imag­ine rac­ing with­out be­ing able to see. Chris­tine Rob­bins has been ac­tive and fiercely com­pet­i­tive for her whole life, de­spite be­ing born with an oc­u­lar prob­lem that ren­ders her legally blind – and in­ca­pable of rid­ing a bike solo on the road. But even with – or per­haps, be­cause of – th­ese bar­ri­ers, she’s re­mained fo­cused on one thing: her road to Rio and a spot in the new Para­triathlon cat­e­gory at the Par­a­lympics this sum­mer. Be­tween her full-time job and full-time train­ing load, she paused to an­swer a few ques­tions for us.

Were you al­ways ac­tive?

I grew up in B.C., just out­side of Van­cou­ver, in a very com­pet­i­tive fam­ily. My aunt went to two Olympics for show-jump­ing – we’re very in­tense. So, grow­ing up, my par­ents threw me into a bunch of sports. I did show-jump­ing, that was my first love. I rode from when I was three un­til I was 23. We also skied a lot. I swam and ran on high school teams that were more par­tic­i­pa­tory than se­ri­ous.

How did you shift to triathlon?

I stopped do­ing jump­ing to go to univer­sity and moved to Ottawa for a job. A friend chal­lenged me to do a Run­ning Room half marathon clinic, and I re­ally en­joyed it. I did four half marathons in two years. But I got bored of just run­ning. An­other friend in­vited me to Triathlon Canada’s first Para­triathlon camp to try it out and the de­vel­op­ment coach saw some po­ten­tial in me. It has gone from there.

What do you love about triathlon?

I re­ally en­joy it be­cause I’m never bored. It’s al­ways some­thing dif­fer­ent and a good chal­lenge. I was born with a hole in my op­tic nerve, so I’m legally blind. But I do have a lot of func­tional sight: I don’t use a cane and I can run on my own and sort of swim on my own, but bik­ing is the big chal­lenge. I can’t ride out­side on my own and need a guide. My main guide Sasha Boul­ton – we met last Jan­uary – goes to univer­sity, so she isn’t al­ways around. It’s hard to find some­one who’s strong enough on the bike and con­fi­dent enough and that I trust to help guide me.

How is the re­la­tion­ship be­tween you and Sasha?

It is a re­ally in­tense re­la­tion­ship. You have to re­ally mesh per­son­al­ity-wise. We travel to­gether, we room to­gether and you have to be on the same wave­length to do that. I’m a re­ally in­tense Type A per­son­al­ity, but Sasha is very calm, which makes us mesh to­gether great, since she’s still a fierce com­peti­tor while rac­ing.

What was it about triathlon that’s made you want to pur­sue it at this level?

It was the chal­lenge of it. I al­ways dreamed of go­ing to the Olympics or Par­a­lympics. At the camp they sold it as the first time it would be in the Par­a­lympics and it was re­ally ex­cit­ing, which re­ally got me in­ter­ested.

Do you want to try longer dis­tances af­ter Rio?

Yes! My first guide, who had some cramp­ing prob­lems that she had to fig­ure out, wants to race with me again and I’d love to. So we’ve talked about do­ing a half-iron­man at some point. I don’t know that I’d want to do a full. But, af­ter Rio, a half for sure.

Which is your favourite leg of triathlon?

The run. Swim­ming is my weak­est and the bike, well, I like to be in con­trol and I don’t have that on the bike, so I’m al­ways a bit ner­vous. But I’m good at run­ning and it’s all me, and it’s just pedal-to-the-metal un­til it’s done. I love it. There’s noth­ing left, all I can do is push for­ward.

When you train on the bike, do you do most of it in­side?

Yes – my coach does th­ese Skype spin classes, so we do that. But this past win­ter we’ve been do­ing a big swim­ming block: swim­ming eight times a week. So I wasn’t bik­ing or run­ning as much, but still train­ing 15 to 16 hours a week. But now we’re go­ing back to bricks, which I’ll do mostly in­doors at the YMCA. And we’ll be get­ting closer to 20 hours per week.

On top of a full-time job?

Yes. My boss at my job does half-iron­man races, so she re­ally un­der­stands the train­ing and I’m able to work from home, so that makes it eas­ier to get the train­ing in and get re­cov­ery time.

Find out more and help sup­port her dream at christi­nes­road­to­

Molly Hur­ford is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who spe­cial­izes in cy­cling and triathlon.

Chris­tine Rob­bins and her guide Sasha Boul­ton ac­cept­ing their sil­ver medal at the Ed­mon­ton ITU world Para­triathlon


Rob­bins and Sasha at the swim start

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