Alena KroneAaron Scheidies became the first blind athlete to finish an Olympic distance triathlon in less than 2 hours on October 14, 2007 at the Life Time Fitness Triathlon. Crossing the finish line in 1 hour, 58 minutes and 8 seconds, this outstanding accomplishment is just part of a lifelong story of ability and determination.
"We all have our own potential," says Scheidies. "It is our choice to strive to achieve it."
Scheidies, born with a love for sports, was already a good soccer player at an early age, and wanted to play professionally. However, Scheidies encountered some unexpected challenges by the time he was in high school.
"I started losing my vision and I didn't know why this was happening to me," said Scheidies. "I tried to compensate and work harder than my teammates, but I couldn't see the ball."
In addition to his love for sports, Scheidies was also born with juvenile macular degeneration, a genetic disorder called Stargardt's disease that eventually classified him as legally blind. Left with only 10 percent of his vision, he entered a period of struggle and uncertainty.
Scheidies brother Ryan, who was also involved in sports in high school, encouraged Aaron to try competing in individual sports. Scheidies decided to join swimming, track, and cross-country, improving his level of endurance and regaining the determination and motivation he had in the past.
"Through swimming, track and cross-country, I developed the ability to overcome obstacles," said Scheidies.
This determination became the foundation for many more accomplishments. Senior year of high school, Scheidies competed in his first sprint triathlon, beginning what would become a record breaking career. So far, he's competed in more than 70 triathlons.
In addition to the initial challenge of a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40-kilometer bike and 10-kilometer run, Scheidies must overcome several other challenges when competing in triathlons. At first, the most challenging aspect of the race was safety. Scheidies started competing in triathlons on his own, without a guide to direct him.
"When I was swimming I could only see the splashes around me, I could not see the buoys" said Scheidies, "My parents would drive the course [of the run] the night before and tell me about the obstacles. I would memorize the obstacles and use people to my advantage. I would get close to other people and follow them so if they didn't hit anything, I wouldn't either."
Since then, Scheidies has used guides when participating in triathlons. Matt West, one of his guides, has been with him for a long time, and has become an important part of his life.
"I look up to Matt for all of the time he invested in me and for making himself personally accountable to help me," said Scheidies.
Now Scheidies faces another unexpected challenge. With his status as an accomplished athlete, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for him to find a guide who matches his abilities biking, swimming and running.
Aside from competing in triathlons, Scheidies spends a significant amount of time giving back and providing opportunities for others with disabilities. The Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) and the C-Different Foundation provided the resources and inspiration he needed to achieve his personal goals as well as his aspiration to help others. As a student at Michigan State University, he had a very positive experience.
"This will be my 3rd college and I never received more support than I did at RCPD," said Scheidies. "Tower guard was always available and willing to help. I pretty much went to RCPD at least once every day."
In an ironic twist of fate, Scheidies was able to apply his academic talents as a member of the very sophomore honorary that supported his success as a freshman. His sophomore status as an elite member of the Tower Guard organization empowered him to help others, employing new technology in textbook production. Scheidies received the Samaritan Scholar Award in 2003 in recognition of his contribution to RCPD and his spirit of ability to succeed.
Today, Scheidies is part of an organization called the C-Different Foundation, providing athletes who are blind or visually impaired with opportunities to participate in sports. Scheidies has greatly benefited from this organization, and the organization's founder, Matt Miller, has been an important role model for Scheidies.
"I look up to him because of all the time he's given to as many people as he has helped." said Scheidies.
Scheidies hopes to do the same in the future, by providing people with disabilities with opportunities to discover their abilities and encouraging them to pursue athletics. Capping his status as a 2004 MSU Alumnus, Scheidies now prepares for completion of a Masters Degree in physical therapy at the University of Washington. Upon graduation he anticipates creating his own physical therapy practice. He also plans to continue working with the C-Different Foundation.
Scheidies has inspired many people with or without disabilities. His determination is contagious.
"I think that no matter what disability you have, someone is going to say something discriminatory. Most of the time this is because the person is not educated about the condition the person has, or there is something about themselves that makes them uncomfortable," said Scheidies. "I use things like this to fuel my fire and work harder."