Twins take on a triple trial

Taking part in a triathlon is a gruelling event for anyone, but when you are registered blind and use a white stick, the challenge is even greater. Catherine Scott spoke to the twins doing just that.

Helen and Amanda Whitely

Helen and Amanda Whitely may be registered blind and need to use white sticks, but the Yorkshire twins are this weekend competing in their first triathlon for charity,

The identical twins, originally from Leeds, suffer from both macular dystrophy and nystagmus.

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While most able-bodied people would dismiss the idea of putting themselves through a gruelling triathlon, the twins’ lack of sight has only driven them on even more to compete as the only disabled athletes in the event which takes place in Surrey on Sunday.

The visually-impaired twins will compete over the same course as the other athletes. They will swim ten lengths of the pool in East Grinstead before jumping on tandem bikes to “peddle like mad” for 11km with their pilots. They will then have to jump off their tandems and run with guides for the final 2.5 kilometres.

For most people entering the event is the easy part. But for Helen and Amanda it has required a superhuman effort just to get to the start line. Finding their properly fitted-out tandem bikes and the two pilots at similar fitness levels to help steer took weeks in itself. Now that they are familiar with the routes and properly kitted out, they have turned to training. They have been putting themselves through their paces in the pool and gym to get themselves in the best possible shape for their big day when their friends and colleagues will descend on East Grinstead to give them a huge cheer.

The 46-year-old Yorkshire born twins who now live in Surrey, have never allowed their visual impairment to interfere in their busy and active lives. They regularly commute into London where Amanda volunteers for Sparks, the leading children’s medical research charity, and where Helen volunteers for Farm Africa, a British charity which is tackling hunger in eastern Africa. When they are not working the phones to drum up new support for their respective charities, Helen and Amanda are often to be found out in the Surrey Hills where they regularly walk 10 miles or more with the East Surrey Walkers and the Go Further rambling group.

The sisters originally set themselves a fundraising target of £1,000 to be split equally between Farm Africa and Sparks. But that target had to be revised upwards after they raced through £1,000 just days after setting up their fundraising page. They’ve now revised the target again, this time from £1,500 to £2,000.

“I’ve always wanted to do a triathlon as I’ve always enjoyed running, swimming and cycling. A friend mentioned the East Grinstead/Sussex Triathlon to me and I thought it would be a good thing to tackle with my twin sister, Helen, who has the same condition as me,” says Amanda.

Helen adds: “It’s been a huge challenge to get ourselves this far and we are now really looking forward to following in the footsteps of our brother who is also partially sighted and who won gold, silver and bronze medals in track and field events in Olympics and World Championships in Bulgaria, Barcelona, New York and Atlanta.”

Conditions affecting sight

Macular Dystrophy is a relatively rare eye condition linked to inherited genetic mutations, and causes deterioration of the inner back lining of the eye 
where the retina and light-sensitive cells are found. 
It usually affects people 
over 60 but can happen earlier.

Nystagmus is a repetitive, involuntary, to-and-fro oscillation of the eyes. The exact incidence and prevalence of nystagmus is not known but it is thought to occur in about 1 in 1,000 people.

To sponsor the twins visit /yorkshiretwins