Legally blind man finishes Naperville triathlon

James Gilliard on Sunday became the first known athlete with disabilities to complete the Naperville Sprint Triathlon.

Gilliard, who's legally blind, finished the 15th Naperville triathlon in 2:20:07, but said the time doesn't matter as much as the message he hopes his participation sends.

"I would love to see more (disabled) people come out and do it," Gilliard said soon after crossing the finish line, "because the reality is, it's not going to be perfect, it's going to be a challenge, but it's better than just sitting on the couch saying, 'Oh, well, I can't do it.' There's no excuse. You got to get out and just do it."

He got through the triathlon's swimming, bicycling and running with guide Terri Hayes, 54, an owner of a downtown Naperville hair salon.

Gilliard, 35, of Naperville, was tethered to Hayes for the 400-meter swim, a method they developed with the help of coaches at Dare2tri, a paratriathlon training camp in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Gilliard needed the tether so he wouldn't stray from the Centennial Beach course.

He quickly found out what can happen in the water during his first triathlon. Some competitors likely unaware of the tether tried to go over or through Gilliard and Hayes.

"People are on a mission to get through the course," said Hayes, an Oswego resident who's been in 14 triathlons. "They don't mean any harm. It's just their way of getting through."

Gilliard and Hayes worked the triathlon's second leg on a tandem bicycle. He ran on his own to complete the triathlon.

Both said they were impressed with the kindness and respect they received at the Naperville race.

"We completed it," Gilliard said. "That was the ultimate goal, to complete it."

He said he's already signed up for next month's ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Chicago.

Legally blind man takes on Naperville triathlon

  Terri Hayes helps James Gilliard of Naperville with his equipment Sunday as they make the transition from the swimming portion of the Naperville Sprint Triathlon to the bicycling portion. Gilliard, who is legally blind, became the first disabled person to complete the competition. John Starks/
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