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 christinesroadtorio.com
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