Imagine swimming 1.2 miles, then jumping on a bike and cycling 56 miles and finally running a half  marathon.  It is called a 70.3 or Half  Ironman.  It sounds extreme but with proper training it can be as fun as it is rewarding.  Thousands of participants from across the country and abroad come to challenge themselves on the Vineman 70.3 race here in Sonoma County.   So I can understand why Richard (Rocky) Camp wants to compete in one. So what if he is 57 years old, I know a 80 year old Nun who does full Ironman races! What make Rocky special is that he is visually-impaired.

Rocky was diagnosed with a  condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) about 10 years ago.  RP is a progressive, degenerative retinal disease which most often leads to  total vision loss.  Rocky was in his words “fortunate” to enjoy a long and successful career as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in his home town of Sebastopol, before becoming legally blind four years ago.    Two years ago he had to give up his practice.  This was a difficult adjustment.   Rocky found training for a triathlon a type of “treatment”. Rocky says, “The physical and emotional discomforts experienced in endurance sports is not only metaphorical of life’s challenges, they condition us, prepare us to better deal with, each inevitable hurdle“.  His eye condition is teaching him how to reach out and ask for help.  In Rocky’s case it is to ask another athlete to guide him through the 70.3 triathlon.  Last year, Rocky successfully completed the Vineman Showdown short course triathlon without a guide.  However, the 70.3 Vineman is a much longer course and will require a guide.

All triathletes who take on the challenges of a  70.3 Ironman need to train long hours and with good training partners.  Rocky’s training partner will also serve as his guide. Don’t think for a minute that Rocky’s lack of vision slows him down,  he runs 8 minute miles!  Rocky draws inspiration from other visually- impaired athletes like his friend  Richard Hunter.  Hunter completed the 70.3 Vineman last year in a time of 5:10 (he raced a faster, 4:49 on another course !).  Most athletes out there are just trying to break the 6 hour mark or cross the finish line!   When I was at the 70.3 World Championships in Florida last month I saw a number of visually-impaired athletes competing.  When you are out on a race course and see another athlete with a disability  it is so inspiring.  It motivates you to find the strength within yourself to push your own limits.  Professional athletes are the genetically-gifted gods of sports – but it is the athletes with special needs that truly inspire.

I am a  “sight-dependent person” ,what my good friend and visually-impaired world champion rower and Petaluman,  Ariel Gilbert calls me. I am in awe of Rocky’s ambition to take on the 70.3 Ironman distance race.  Ariel and I had planned to compete together for her first sprint distance triathlon, 500 meter swim, 16 mile bike and 3 mile run. Unfortunately, we could not find a tandem bike that would accommodate the difference in our height and allow me to steer. So she ditched me for a taller partner.   So I was left on the side lines to watch her race.  Watching her run into the rough surf tethered to her guide for the swim start, left me in awe of her courage and competitive spirit.  I wondered if I would be able to summon the same courage if my circumstances were different.  Watching her finish the event filled me with admiration.   So I understand why Rocky wants to take on the challenge of the 70.3 Vineman triathlon.

I have no doubt the Rocky will be able to provide his guide, and all of us,  with some valuable insight into how to live our best lives.  He is an inspiring guy!  If you or someone you know is interested in being a guide for Rocky please contact him at rcamp@sonic.net.   Finding a guide is Rocky’s only handicap.

The C Difference Foundation is a non profit foundation that was founded to inspire visually impaired people around the world to lead active and healthy lives.