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A case of blind faith for triathlon’s tandem dream team

A case of blind faith for triathlon’s tandem dream team

This is a triathlon marriage born in Busselton – and as it turned out for John Domandl and Paul McGlynn – it was in fact triathlon heaven.

Two 57-year-old bald blokes from Newcastle – one of them blind - on a tandem push bike riding down the triathlon aisles of the world as fast as they can go and having the time of their lives doing it.

Extraordinary vision impaired Ironman triathlete and Paralympian, Domandl has a condition known as retinitis pigmentosis, it’s the deterioration of the retina but it has not stopped him becoming the fastest visually impaired triathlete in the Ironman world.

Last December in Busselton with “newly engaged triathlon partner”, established ironman age group triathlete McGlynn the pair completed the ironman distance the 3.8km swim (tethered), 180km (tandem) and 42.2km run (tethered) in 10hrs 53 mins - the fastest time in the world for a visually impaired athlete.

In fact 15 minutes faster than the previous world record of 11hr 8m set in 1990.

Domandl is an extraordinary athlete and an inspirational to all – he’s an ironman, marathon runner and adventurer who has finished more 100 triathlons, five marathons, and one 24-hour Ultra Marathon.

He is also the first legally blind person in the world to complete an Ultraman triathlon (10km swim, 420km bike and 84km double marathon) and the only person to complete all triathlon distances (from sprint to ironman) as a sighted person and a legally blind person.

But when you are legally blind you need a trustworthy partner or in triathlon terms a good guide to point you in the right direction –like a good wife – to keep you on the straight and narrow.

After advertising for a new partner through the Newcastle Triathlon Club some 15 months ago, McGlynn – who himself has been around the Ironman triathlon tracks more than a dozen times himself, signed on for a job he thought would be fun.

And the John and Paul show – the bald boys from Newcastle have had the time of their lives doing it.

For Paul it certainly hasn’t been a case of just “going along for the ride.”

But on the eve of the pair leaving today with the Australian Triathlon Team for the inaugural ITU Multi Sport Festival in Penticton (starting Saturday) they certainly agree they are having the ride of their lives.

And the ”Tandem Team” as they are also known as they walk through airports with their oversized bike - is making the most of their trip – they are certainly not going fort a holiday.

The boys will contest the Duathlon (5km run; 20.4km bike; 2.5km run) first up, followed by the Aquabike (3km; 120bike) and then finish up with the Long Course Triathlon (3km swim; 120km bike and 30km run).

“We figured we were going all that way to Canada we may as well get our money’s worth,” quipped jovial John.

But talking to the pair of them together is a contest within itself – a race to the finish just to get “two words in edgeways” or to ask a question.

It’s because they re so passionate about life and about their lives in what has become a very exciting triathlon world.

“This partnership is like a marriage,” said Paul.

“We had some decisions to make when we first met - are we serious about each other? 

“Will we be compatible? Will I let him down?

“Am I good enough for him? All those things”

And as it turns out the bald boys are like twins on a tandem and anyone who gets in their way look out.

Both John and Paul agree: “This thing’s like the Ferrari of tandem bikes - it’s like going from a Mini Minor to a B Double semi-trailer (when we get moving).”

“I have to admit the first issue was trying to get your head around the tandem - it isn’t as easy as it looks and it was a bit dodgy with a few bunny hops to begin with,” said Paul.

“You have to have 150 percent trust in each other and we certainly have that.

“But it has been an on-going education on the bike to make sure that John has the confidence in me.

“I never stop talking the whole time on the bike, talking him through the corners, in and out and when to go and when to slow down, it’s full on.”

And for John it can sometimes be a case of “hang on.”

“It is just fantastic, “says John “I’ve got a smile from ear to ear when we race and we start to overtake people.

“What we may lose on the swim we more than make up for on the bike.

“Paul keeps me straight and we might take off in mid field but then we’ll overtake 400 people. This is Ironman at speed.

“I say to those we are passing ‘how ya going…good bye. We’re out of here.’

“We never stop talking and everything we do is done in synch like when we stand up then Paul says ‘corner coming up, it’s full on concentration.

“You have to verbally break it down and know when to hold on really tight. It’s not easy to communicate for 10,12,13 hours when you are travelling sometimes at 70 to 80km an hour.

“You have to trust your pilot….my life is in his hands and he has to trust me as well.

“We have developed a mutual trust ... It is certainly physically and mentally draining for Paul.”

Any facet of the race can be challenging – even when you stop for a break.

Like the time in Port Macquarie last year with six kilometres to run and Paul suggested they stop at an aid station and it was pitch black.

Paul didn’t get the chance to tell his visually impaired partner about the “No Standing” sign.

“I walked straight into it didn’t and I ended up with a whopping egg on my head,” laughed John.

And Paul was relieved he recovered and he didn’t have to carry him across the finish line in a fireman’s carry.

The bald boys from Newcastle are certainly passionate about pulling on the green and gold and even more passionate when they march in the second of the Penticton Opening Ceremonies.

They have been chosen to carry the Australian Flag - an honour John Domandl described as one of the best phone calls he can ever remember taking.

“It was Miles Stewart, a triathlon legend and the CEO of Triathlon Australia and he told me I had been chosen with Paul to carry the Aussie flag at the second Opening Ceremony for the Long Course and I was very emotional – what a moment – we can’t wait,” said John.

And the day after competition?

“That’s beer day….!” said John and Paul agreed.