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Kiama Triathlon Club supports visually impaired athlete at World Championships

The Bugle App

Lleyton Hughes

28 June 2024, 4:33 AM

Kiama Triathlon Club supports visually impaired athlete at World Championships

John Domandl, a 64-year-old visually impaired athlete, will represent Australia by competing in the Multisport World Championship in Townsville this August.

Domandl is a member of the Kiama Triathlon Club, despite living in Newcastle, and he praises the Kiama club's support and other visually impaired athletes.

“There’s several people in the Kiama club who have supported me and volunteered themselves to help, whereas at other clubs I’ve struggled,” says Domandl.

“And I don’t blame them because I think triathlons are a very selfish sport and a lot of people who do this sport want to be individuals and not team players. But I’ve just found that to be different at Kiama.”

John suffers from a condition called Retinitis pigmentosa (RM) which is a rare eye disease that affects the retina and slowly causes the eyesight to decline. He is now down to five per cent vision and needs a guide with him when racing.

At the Townsville race he will be guided by Dan Merange, a fellow member of the Kiama Triathlon Club. The event will be a 3km swim, 120 km bike ride and a 30 km run.

This is the longest race that Merange has done as a guide, and he outlined how he will steer John through the course.

“In the swim we wear a tether with a 900mm bungee cord. Guiding him around the course is quite challenging in the swim as there’s no way to communicate. On the bike we ride tandem which is a lot of fun … John’s on the back but sometimes I forget he’s on the back,” says Merange.

“There’s so much trust that you put into your guide, he has to be on the top of his game 110% of the time because he’s not looking after one person, he’s looking after two people. So, he has to do that, and do the event too, and if he doesn’t it could be catastrophic,” says Domandl.

John has been participating in the sport since 1986, starting his career as a ‘sighted’ competitor, and believes he is now faster than he was when he started because of guides such as Dan.

“I'm actually faster now than I was 30 years ago. 30 years ago I was scared to go fast, but now, when someone ‘is my eyes’, I can push myself and I don’t have to worry,” says Domandl.

“As soon as I put him on the tandem I thought, this guy is loving it, and I just said to Dan ‘If you give me one season, we’ll have a good time’ and he said ‘Right, I’ll give you a season,’ and that’s gone from a season to another season to a worlds championships and now he’s also going to pilot and help run with me at Ultraman in 2025,” says Domandl.

Domandl hopes that in the future there will be more clubs like Kiama, who will support visually impaired athletes, as there are many more out there who want to get involved.

The Townsville Multisport World Championships take place between 15 and 25 of August, and John and Dan will be hoping to beat out the other visually impaired team.

“We’ve got this deep seated rivalry for each other. Like State of Origin. He’s from Queensland, mate versus mate and state versus state. He is ten years younger than me, so on paper he should beat me. But I’m confident because I’ve got Dan, and Dan is one of the best guides going around. And he doesn’t know about that, so he’s my little secret,” says Domandl.

Overall, 11 members of the Kiama Triathlon Club will be participating in Townsville: Amelia Alexander, Caroyln Dews, Mary Street, Peter Pike, Tanya Montomery, Cherly Freeman, Tanya Sampson, David Lawrence, Steve Byrne as well as John and Dan.