Running Blind

A thousand athletes will gather at Frank Murphy County Park Sunday to take on the Door County Triathlon’s grueling Half Iron course. They will each have personal challenges, but none like 56-year-old Rod Maccoux of Green Bay.

While many athletes come to Door County in part to take in the natural beauty of the events, Maccoux will take on the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run without ever getting a glimpse of the shore or the bluffs.

Rod Maccoux takes a lap around Lambeau Field near the end of the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. Photo contributed.

Maccoux has been blind since birth.

He started running 10Ks in the early 1990s, and has since completed three Cellcom Green Bay Marathons. In 2010, he participated in his first triathlon in New York state, and Sunday’s Door County Half Iron will be his longest course to date.

For Maccoux the triathlon isn’t about competition, but about having fun and being around people who enjoy exercising outdoors.

His guide plays an invaluable role, without which Maccoux would not be able to participate. For the swimming portion of the event, Maccoux and his guide are connected via bungee cord. Through the tension of the eight-foot-long bungee, Maccoux monitors his pace.

“If the bungee cord has no tension it means I’m too close to my guide, and if there’s too much, then I need to pick up the pace,” he said. “It’s really a matter of swimming evenly or we’re fighting each other in the water.”

Maccoux uses a tandem bicycle for the event’s 56-mile bike leg, and runs arm-in-arm with his guide through the 13.1-mile run to the finish.

Photo contributed.

His guide for the Half Iron is Jim Neitzel, a first-time guide. In fact, the two men have never met in person, only spoken over the phone and through email.

Maccoux’s usual guide didn’t want to do the Half Iron, so he posted a request for one on the Fox Valley Triathlon Club’s website.

Neitzel answered within an hour, and said the only part he’s not entirely confident about is the tandem bicycle. The pair are going to take the bike for a spin on Saturday, but Maccoux is confident everything will go smoothly.

“It took me longer to buy a bib than to find a guide,” Maccoux said. “I’ve never met Jim, but he’s pretty much what I’m looking for in a guide. I think it should be a lot of fun.”

Neitzel has competed in triathlons for almost 10 years, including the Door County Sprint and Half Iron courses, in addition to running marathons. Maccoux’s persistence has helped Neitzel keep things in perspective, even the tandem bicycle.

“I haven’t ridden one…but he has a pretty calm approach to it,” Neitzel said.

Maccoux doesn’t approach the event with competitive intensity, but with his eye on finishing the punishing event at his own pace.

“I don’t look at it as competing, so I just go out there and try to have fun and enjoy the day and enjoy the people,” Maccoux said. “People who typically enjoy outdoor exercising are fairly cheerful people, and it’s fun to be outside and amongst them.”

He aims to finish in under six and a half hours. Helping Maccoux is Neitzel’s sole priority on Sunday. “I certainly hope it goes well for him…just helping him get to the end is my goal.”

Although he’s never been a guide before, Neitzel has seen other guides at marathons and road races.

“I think it’s truly amazing,” Neitzel said of Maccoux. “Events like that are hard enough for the…able-bodied, or able-visioned.”

Maccoux said he was still in shape from running the Cellcom Marathon earlier this year, so he just added more biking and swimming to his routine. He hit the pool once a week and biked about three times per week.

Having the right mix of people in his life enables him to participate in athletic events, whether it’s his guides, or others willing to help him train, get to the events and participate.

“Various people have made this all possible…they’re small things, but without them I wouldn’t be able to train,” Maccoux said. “It’s probably one of the reasons why I didn’t start earlier in life.”

Maccoux said he approaches the events as an experience to take in, not a competition, and for anyone looking to participate in a triathlon or other athletic event, he suggests adopting a similar outlook.

“[Triathlon’s] take time and that’s why you want to stay calm and just pace yourself so you don’t burn out early in the game,” Maccoux said. “What applies to me pretty much applies to everyone else, applies to living a healthy lifestyle. It’s a good thing to be able to do. It’s a good experience to be able to have.”