Running Blind: Racing Through the Eyes of a Disabled Triathlete

Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt didn’t let her disabillity stop her from being active.

Ivonne with her husband, John, at last year's Broad Street Run.

Ivonne with her husband, John, at last year’s Broad Street Run.

Ivonne Mosquera-Schmidt has won gold and silver medals in triathlon world championships. She has run a handful of marathons and races at competitive speeds. She even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2001.

Ivonne has been blind since age 2.

A project manager for Dow Chemical Company in Philadelphia, Ivonne was diagnosed with retinal cancer as a child and had to get both of her eyes removed to keep the cancer from spreading to her brain. Although she lost her vision, she didn’t let it keep her from being active. She got involved in ballet, tap and jazz dancing and while she was completing her undergraduate degree at Stanford University in California, she took up hiking.

When Ivonne returned to her hometown of New York City after college, she wanted to find a way to get outdoors again. In 2001 she called a local running group, the New York Road Runners, and asked if they had worked with blind runners before. They said they had and welcomed her to the group. The first time she ran with them she ran two miles and took a long nap when she got home. “After that I got hooked,” she says.

Ivonne no longer needs those post-run naps—at least, not after two miles. In 2003 she ran her first marathon, the New York City Marathon, and has run a handful of marathons since. Her personal best is 3 hours and 22 minutes for a marathon and 1 hour and 35 minutes for a half marathon.

When she entered the world of triathlons, Ivonne knew that she had sufficient experience in running and cycling; swimming would be the real challenge, as putting her head under water meant losing her ability to hear. “My ears are usually what I use to pick up everything around me. My ears are my eyes, essentially,” she says.

In the beginning, she could only do a backstroke. People doubted that she would be able to sustain the stroke for a triathlon distance. Her response? “Of course I can.”

In 2009 Ivonne won the gold medal for the Gold Coast ITU Triathlon World Championsips in Australia, and in 2010 she took the silver medal at the World Championships in Hungary.

Ivonne, who runs with a guide, says she enjoys listening for birds and smelling budding flowers during springtime runs. If she’s participating in a race or marathon, she feeds off the applause of the crowd. Here in Philly, Ivonne has completed the Broad Street Run and the Philadelphia Marathon.

And while she enjoys the health and fitness benefits of running, the activity is about much more than training and getting stronger.

“I have met an incredible number of people through running,” she says, “In a way, it’s a social activity for me.”

In fact, she’s bringing people together: “I’ve found that running has been one of my tools for bridging the able-bodied and the disabled person. It gives me the ability to share the message with other disabled people that there is so much life has to offer.”

Ivonne says that none of her accomplishments would be possible without the help of guides, volunteers and her friends and family. She is always looking for running and triathlon guides who are extremely comfortable and confident in the discipline. If you are interested in becoming a guide, learn more here.

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