Pacific Northwest | September 14, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineSeptember 14, home
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Limitless Possibilities
In physical challenges, learning when to hang on and when to let go
Catherine Schiffler, left, takes her sister Suzanne's arm for guidance as she transitions from the bicycling segment of the Seattle Danskin Women's Triathlon to the 3.1-mile run at Genesee Park near Lake Washington. Despite an illness that is robbing her of sight and hearing, Catherine was participating in the September event for the second year.
As her sight wanes, Catherine Schiffler adjusts. Hearing impaired since birth, her vision began dimming and narrowing in her early 20s. Now 41, she is learning to use a cane and is applying for a guide dog. Driving? Forget it. That doesn't mean she's quit.

With her sister's aid, she recently tackled her second Danskin Women's Triathlon. The annual event was a chance to show herself that she still is an athlete, even as she gracefully accepts a helping hand. She did the event, which calls for running, swimming and cycling, by herself last year, but realized during the cycling leg that it was too dangerous to do alone.

"I have pretty good central vision, like looking through windows, but if I look right or left I trip over things," she told me.

For her second go at the event, last month at Genesee Park, she brought big sister Suzanne. While Catherine did the crawl, Suzanne did the sidestroke. When running through congested areas, Catherine reached out and held onto her sister's elbow. For the cycling leg, the sisters hopped on a tandem bike.
 Fitness Notebook

Fitness news you can use

Top 10 Reasons To Stretch

The American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that promotes physical activity and advocates for consumer protection in the fitness industry, offers this list of why you should be stretching:

1. Decreases muscle stiffness/increases range of motion.

2. May reduce injury risk.

3. Helps relieve post-exercise aches and pains.

4. Improves posture.

5. Helps reduce or manage stress.

6. Reduces muscular tension and enhances muscular relaxation.

7. Improves mechanical efficiency and functional performance.

8. Prepares the body for the stress of exercise.

9. Promotes circulation.

10. Decreases the risk of low-back pain.

And one more thing: It keeps you feeling and looking younger.

Schiffler, a mother of two sons, has Usher's syndrome, a genetic condition that gradually robs hearing and sight. She has gone to her share of soccer and baseball games, so it was only fair that the boys and her husband be there to cheer her.

She wrangles with the same issues that a wide range of people with disabilities face each day. They want to push themselves for the sake of their mind and body, but they also wrestle with accepting limitations and compromise.

She had to look no farther than the splashes in the lake during the swimming leg. She was competing alongside women from Team Survivor Northwest. The group was founded in Seattle eight years ago when some local women decided to use exercise and fitness challenges as therapy against cancer.

"It was unbelievable how they were encouraging each other every stroke of the way," Schiffler said. "One woman had a snorkel and mask on. Everyone just did what they needed to."

That has been the philosophy of Clark Roberts, a 48-year-old motivational speaker from Bellevue. Through his speaking business, Ultimate Vision, Roberts conducts what he calls "awareness education." In effect, he preaches that neither people with disabilities nor those around them should set limits.

"Just because certain things come across your life doesn't mean life has to stop," he says. "It doesn't matter what your particular challenge is; it's what you're going to do with it."

Roberts knows of what he speaks. He has been legally blind since he was 24. Now, he regularly speaks to schools and organizations. He also assesses whether public buildings like hotels have kept people with disabilities in mind.

This month, Roberts and his 13-year-old son, Jacob, joined a 280-mile cycling event from New York to Washington, D.C., as part of a tribute honoring the anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Jacob steered the tandem bike while dad took the back seat. The pair has done the Seattle-to-Portland bicycling event twice.

The New York event, known as Face of America 2003, was planned and organized by World TEAM Sports (The Exceptional Athlete Matters), a nonprofit organization committed to bringing diverse groups of people — including those with disabilities and those without — together through sports and events. Roberts rode the memorial event last year, too, as his friend, area chiropractor Scott Hammons, piloted their tandem. This year, he felt his son was mature enough to handle the challenge.

So what does it feel like when someone else is steering and you can make out only vague shapes and shadows? Well, there is the wind slapping his face, the sun warming his body and the sweat pooling inside his helmet. But there is also, Roberts says, the freedom that comes with trust.

"Trust is a major issue that comes into play in all aspects of my life. If I'm not capable of completely relying on someone else, I wouldn't get to have any fun."

Richard Seven is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff writer. Yoni Brook is a Seattle Times staff photographer.

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