Ryan Van Praet

Both Sides Of The Fence

Perspective has come to me in many forms, be it from a life lesson or by way of my fathers death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), or in dealing with vision loss. Having discovered I had Retinitis Pigmentosa when I was 4 years old, knowing I would slowly lose my sight, I have lived a life of perspective and appreciation.

Born in Chatham, Ontario on a small farm, the youngest of three children, I was given a gift by my parents in the form of one single decision. They chose upon my diagnosis to treat me like any other child, to let me try, to let me fall, to let me learn and appreciate the lessons of life. This single decision has shaped my life.

Growing up as “visually impaired”, I used the decent amount of vision I had to play hockey, golf, tennis, football and all the other sports kids play. As my sight lessened, so did my ability to play regular sport, moving me ever closer to that “fence”. In discovering running and eventually triathlon late in high school, I found a sport that utilized my determination and stubbornness as a major asset. I was not the fastest but I was stubborn.

In 2008 after accomplishing much with my ever diminishing vision, graduating with a Kinesiology degree, getting married, racing for 10 years as a solo triathlete, completing 5 Ironman Triathlons and too many races to count, I came to the “fence”. I made the decision to end my solo career and become a Paratriathlete. It was no longer safe for myself or my competitors to race solo any longer. Since then I have raced with my guide Syd Trefiak as a Nationally ranked Paratriathlete and have my sights set on the Paralympics in 2016 in Rio. Being on this new side of the fence has given me a new career, new friends and opportunities, something I truly cherish and am excited about. My life of perspective continues to fuel my drive for respect, inclusion and accessibility for those with disabilities.

On the “solo” side of the fence I was seen as a competitor, on the “para” side of the fence I was/am seen as a “good for you” participant. Participation is something that is truly wonderful, however it should not be the default when the word Para-athlete comes up. Through my actions and my words I will make it a life’s mission to promote a community where you are respected regardless of ability.

Thanks to my parents I grew up knowing that as long as I tried my best, was honest and worked with integrity, my name would be my legacy, NOT the fact that I am legally blind and slowly losing my remaining vision. It is my dream that the day will come when a blind/visually impaired athlete, tethered to his/her guide, will stand on the starting line and be perceived and respected as a competitor.