Amy Dixon makes history in the XTERRA off-road triathlon in Tahoe City
Four years ago last week, Amy Dixon received a devastating diagnosis — she’d slowly be robbed of her eyesight due to an autoimmune disease known as Uveitis, which has now taken 98 percent of her vision, leaving Dixon with only a small hole to see the world through.
But Dixon hasn’t let the disease slow her down — if anything — she’s used it to push further than she ever had while fully sighted.
“It was a big adjustment. It’s still a big adjustment,” Dixon said. “Having a little bit of vision is tough, because you try to rely on that little bit of vision, but it’s not reliable.
“In some ways it would be better if I had no sight, but I’m grateful for the sight that I have. It was definitely challenging in the beginning, but I do more now than I did when I was sighted. I never would have thought about doing a triathlon when I had vision.”
Training out of San Diego, Dixon’s journey took her to the shores of Tahoe City, where on Saturday, June 24, she became the first blind women to complete an XTERRA off-road triathlon.
With her guide Christy Fritts tethered to her right side, Dixon entered the waters of Lake Tahoe and completed the 1,500 meter swim.
“You just get into a rhythm,” Dixon said. “She just matches my stroke. I just swim and she matches my cadence.”
The two then hopped on to a custom-made, tandem mountain bike, where Dixon’s job was simply to hold on tight, and try to stay centered on top of the bicycle,
“(Fritts) is the No. 1 ranked off-road female in the country right now for her age group,” Dixon said. “So, I was in good hands as far as someone who can really handle a bike. The tandem is all about handling. It’s like driving a tractor trailer. It doesn’t corner well, it doesn’t stop well and it climbs really slow. I needed someone who was strong and also really agile, and she totally nailed it.”
The two would have a fair share of scares over the 22 miles of riding, but managed to keep the 9-foot long bike upright.
“She has a shock on her seat, so when we’re going over stuff, it’s like a pogo stick,” Fritts said. “And so that can quickly mess up my next move if she’s landing on the seat. It was a little bit of a learning curve.”
On one occasion, while making a descent, Dixon said she was nearly bucked over the top by a bump and onto Fritts.
“I almost got vaulted over her head at one point,” Dixon said. “It’s a good thing I was holding on tight to the handle bars. I said, ‘If we crash, we crash — it’s fine.’”
For Fritts, riding the bike, something the two said they’d practiced only a handful of times, was about controlling the extra weight, yelling at Dixon to duck when low hanging branches came into play; all the while saying, “This is my thing, shut up, hang on and don’t move.”
From there Dixon held onto Fritts’ shoulder as the two made their way along the roughly 5-mile run to the finish at Commons Beach, making history as they crossed the line with a time of 2 hours, 34 minutes, 7 seconds.
The race was another achievement for Dixon, who after four years has gone from devastation to becoming an inspiration to people around her.
A lifelong athlete, she said she gained 70 pounds while receiving treatments of chemotherapy and steroids to suppress her immune system. She’d then slowly begin working herself back into shape.
“I got back in the pool to lose the weight,” she said. “Then I started riding a stationary bike, and then I started running on a treadmill. Then someone said, ‘You’re swimming and biking and running, have you thought about doing a triathlon?’ I said, ‘That sounds scary, but kind of fun and I’ll try it.’”
Soon after, she found a guide and competed in her first triathlon, starting down an unexpected road.
“Within two years, I lost all of the weight, and made the national team and was an alternate for Rio for the Paralympics,” Dixon said.
As Dixon continued to train and get faster, she found it harder to find female guides who could keep up with her. Then she came across Fritts, who was part of a female running group at the time.
The two would begin training together, and then went on to win last year’s International Triathlon Union Cozumel Aquathon World Championships in the women’s Para triathlon division.
Dixon then decided to attempt an off-road XTERRA race. XTERRA hosts a series of off-road triathlons, but Dixon had to find one that could suit the tandem mountain bike’s length and tire width, and the Tahoe City event provided the perfect opportunity.
“Worst case scenario, we just take our time,” Dixon said. “Nobody else has done it before, so we don’t have to go kill it. But we ended up killing it. We had a great day out there. We were sort of setting the bar.”
The race in Tahoe also served another purpose for Dixon. With her sight continuing to degenerate, she wanted to take in the scenery of Tahoe.
“I’m losing the rest of my sight over the next couple of years, because my disease is still progressing, and so on my bucket list of things to see before the rest of my vision goes, is to see Lake Tahoe and now I got to see it, I’m very grateful.”
Going forward, Dixon said she has goals of competing in the Tokyo Paralympics in 2020. She’s ranked fourth in the world for blind females, and also helps other blind athletes through her program No Sight, No Limits.