Two for one in Paralympics triathlon

Communications, consistency keys to success for Canadian duo

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – In the final results for the women’s PT5 triathlon, Christine Robbins’ name is slotted alone at number 10, but she didn’t race alone – none of the competitors did.

Robbins, who has a visual impairment, swam, cycled and ran next to her guide Sasha Boulton.

“It’s a really special and unique thing,” said coach Carolyn Murray on the beaches at Fort Copacabana. “I think Sasha is such an amazing person and that partnership couldn’t have been any better. It is a very difficult job to be a guide, because they don’t even get their name on their suits, so it’s a selfless job and very rewarding when you have the right partnership.”

Boulton, 22, and Robbins, 38, have to be in communication for the entire triathlon in order to make it to the finish line.

The pair starts the race swimming side by side before hopping on a tandem bike, which they both pedal but Boulton steers and changes the gears. When they take off to run the final leg, they attach a rope to their arms so that Boulton can give directions to the Paralympian.

In order for the two to race effectively, there needs to be synergy between guide and participant.

“You need to have a perfect dynamic,” Murray said. “It’s just like a relationship. They need to know when to be there and know when to back off. If that doesn’t work the performance could be affected. With these two, I didn’t see that at all. Sasha is just such a phenomenal person; I can’t say enough about her.”

During the race, as a Guide, Boulton must stay within 1.5 metres of Robbins when they are in the water, and within 0.5 metres when running.

As the guides are not allowed to push or pull the athletes, being able to work well with each other and perform at an agreed pace is crucial.

“You really have to learn to be there for that person and know kind of what it takes for them to have the best race ever,” said Boulton. “You need to know exactly what to say and what kind of movements are triggers for her.”

The two Canadians were on top of their games Sunday, clocking a time of 1:22:59.

“I was really happy with my swim, I think it was one of the better swims I had,” Robbins said. “The bike was a strong effort and the run was also strong. I probably could have pushed a little harder but we were being cautious with the heat. I’m actually really happy with the whole race. I think it was the best race I’ve ever had.”

Success at the Paralympics means sacrifice – especially in a sport requiring a guide.

Boulton made that sacrifice and moved to Ottawa to train more consistently with Robbins.

“That made a huge difference and I am just so overwhelmed,” Robbins said. “It’s a huge sacrifice to move away from her family and her boyfriend for a whole summer. It’s made a huge difference for us, even for the bike training and swimming together. It just makes such a big difference when you get to train with that person day in and day out.”

Even though they didn’t make the podium – and, even if they had, only Robbins would have received a medal – Boulton was thrilled with the performance.

“That was the best race she’s ever had and her finish today in Rio was amazing,” she said. “I’m so proud of her.”

It was the first time that the triathlon was featured in the Paralympics and Robbins was glad that her guide was there to share the experience.

“It’s amazing, it’s such a privilege to be part of a historic moment,” Robbins said. “Sharing it with Sasha makes it even more awesome. She is the best guide ever and we’ve become really good friends with our training together, especially since she moved to Ottawa for the summer.”

Now that the Paralympics for the triathlon are over, the two will be parting their athletic ways.

Boulton will be returning to the University of Guelph to finish her degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Robbins, on the other hand, is going to retire from the triathalon.

“It’s been an amazing journey as an athlete and getting stronger,” she said. “I think I am going to reflect on it more when it’s over, but it has been an amazing experience, one in a lifetime. I’m so glad I did this.”

At the end of the day, she could not be more thrilled to have her final competitive triathlon on the beaches of Copacabana in Rio De Janeiro.

“That just makes it perfect. This was the goal the whole time, to be in the Paralympics, and to race here in this beautiful place. It just makes it really special.”