Paratriathlete talks to 10News about her motivation

Posted at 11:38 PM, Feb 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-21 02:45:09-05

A world-class athlete is finding unique training in San Diego. Amy Dixon is a triathlete from Greenwich, Connecticut.

“I’m ranked fifth in the world," Dixon said.

Dixon never dreamed she would become a star athlete; she started going blind in her early 20s.

The symptoms started as severe migraines.

“Strobing and flashing in front of my eyes," Dixon said. "Sort of like when you look at the sun then you look away and see spots in front of your eyes for a moment.”

By the time she went to the doctor, the damage was already too extensive to repair.

“I had a rare autoimmune disease that was taking my vision,” Dixon said. "I thought it was a death sentence. I cried for two months."

Dixon was a swimmer and played soccer and tennis in high school. When steroid treatments to slow down her eye loss caused her to gain 70 pounds, she started swimming again.

"I just started doing 10 laps which felt like 10 miles,” Dixon she said. "I know that I get [to the end of the pool] in 21 strokes pretty much every time."

Dixon says her exercise  program progressed from there.

“I started hopping on a stationary bike at the YMCA where I live,” she said. “Finally got brave enough to try out the treadmill, holding on for dear life.”

A social media post pushed her physical goals in a new direction.

“Someone through social media said ‘Hey, you’re swimming, you’re biking and you’re running indoors so you’re basically doing a triathlon, why don’t you take it outdoors and I’ll help you!’” Dixon said. "I did my first triathlon three-and-a-half years ago. They signed me up and I didn’t really have a choice, I was held hostage a little bit, in a good way," she laughed.

Dixon trains with a tether around her waist, tied to an athlete who can see. They then run, swim, and cycle together. 

“We use a tandem bike, where they pilot the front and I ride the back,” Dixon said.

Dixon first came to San Diego to compete in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge put on by the Challenged Athlete Foundation.

She was then nominated for a Challenged Athlete Foundation to attend one of their camps, and applied for a grant that would help her get her first tandem bicycle. She also started training at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.

“It’s an amazing facility. So I train there whenever I can,” Dixon said. "It opened up a whole new world for me that I didn’t know was possible.”

Dixon also led a camp at the training center for other visual or hearing impaired athletes called "No Sight No Limits."

“The only limitations are in our heads,” Dixon said. "The words ‘blind’ and ‘triathlon’ certainly didn’t even seem to appear in the same sentence to me.”

Now, Dixon has her sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. She's so passionate about training herself and others that she decided to move to San Diego full time.

“I have more friends now," Dixon said. "I have more extended family. I do more now than I ever did with vision."

Dixon is certified as a USA Triathlon Level I Coach; if she doesn't qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, she wants to train the athlete who does go.

She is also training to become the first visually impaired female to complete an Xterra race, an off-road triathlon and trail running series.

“Things that I would never even think about trying with full sight," Dixon said. "Like I hopped on the back of a tandem mountain bike the other day. I would not do that if I had full vision. There’s no way in heck I would do that."

"No Sight No Limits" is funded through private donations and volunteer coaches and staff. 

“You don’t need sight to have vision,” Dixon said.

Click here to learn more about how you can donate, learn more, or keep track of Dixon's progress.