Jeremy Winters, left, tethered to his guide, Justin Kulers, completes the 5-kilometer run as part of the USA Paratriathlon National Championship in Austin, Texas. Jeremy placed first in his division making him the Men’s Paratriathlon National Champ.
ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. – Jeremy Winters has one word he lives his life by: perseverance.
Winters, the son of Joe and Patricia Winters, was recently named the Men’s Paratriathlon (Tri 6) National Champion. Jeremy, who is legally blind, competed in the USA Paratriathlon National Championship in Austin, Texas, in May.
“It was a long road for him,” says Patricia, Jeremy’s mother and a technical specialist in Aerospace Testing Alliance’s (ATA) Integrated Test and Evaluation Department. “But once Jeremy sets his mind to do something, you can rest assured he will work hard until he accomplishes his goal.”
Jeremy, 39, was diagnosed with the degenerative eye disease Cone-Rod Dystrophy (CRD) at age 10. CRD is an inherited progressive disease that causes deterioration of the cone and rod photoreceptor cells and often results in blindness.
“Losing his vision slowly each year helped him adjust to a different way of seeing as he grew older,” Patricia said. “Jeremy was involved in several contact sports at a young age, and little things that occurred during the games caught our attention that something just wasn’t right.”
“Jeremy is a very positive person which I contribute a lot to his dad, Joe,” Patricia said. “When he could no longer see well enough to play contact sports his dad helped him turn to track, which Jeremy really enjoys. Joe drove Jeremy back and forth to Nashville during Jeremy’s junior and senior year of high school to participate in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) track. It was a great, positive experience for Jeremy. “
While there is no cure for CRD, Jeremy does not let his visual impairment keep him from reaching his goals … one of which was teaching. Jeremy received his doctorate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and is a math education professor at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU).
“I love my job, because the professors I work with are so supportive,” Jeremy said. “In fact, another professor in our group, Dr. Kathy Burress, also has the same eye problem and she has been a great mentor.”
MTSU provides Jeremy with an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) graduate assistant and closed-circuit television that changes normal print into oversize lettering, which allows him to perform his job.
Jeremy and his wife, Kristen, and their three children moved closer to campus when Jeremy could no longer drive. Several times a week Jeremy walks to school and then changes into his running clothes to run home.
“I get my exercise in before I ever reach home, which allows me time to play with my kids,” Jeremy said. “I ran all through high school and college so I run at the same time I practiced every day, so it doesn’t seem that unfamiliar to me.”
The idea of Jeremy participating in the USA Paratriathlon National Championship came from Melissa Miller, an engineer in ATA’s Information Technology & Systems Department.
“Melissa is very involved in marathons and triathlons and coordinates the annual Mach Tenn race here at AEDC,” Patricia said. “She helped Jeremy and his sister, Allison, participate in their first event by allowing them to ride close together on their bikes so Allison could be his guide. After that Melissa researched rules and races so that he could continue to participate in racing events.”
Jeremy is also very thankful for Melissa’s assistance.
“Melissa has helped in so many ways,” Jeremy said. “I wanted to contact her first when I came home to let her know how the race went and to thank her for putting me in contact with the right people.”
The 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer bike, 5-kilometer run race required the contestants to prequalify with a successful completion of a sprint distance triathlon in two hours or an Olympic distance triathlon in four hours.
Jeremy’s division (Tri 6: Visually impaired) required each participant to have a handler or guide of the same sex present throughout the race. The guide serves as the athlete’s eyes for the race. Participants were also required to use a tandem bicycle and be tethered to their guide while also wearing blackout shades during the run so that everyone’s sight would be the same – totally blind.
“I knew I wanted to compete in the race,” Jeremy said. “But I just wasn’t sure who would be willing to be my guide.”
Jeremy asked a close friend and his daughter’s soccer coach of six years, Justin Kulers, to be his guide for the race.
“With some convincing, Justin decided he would do it and started training with me for the race,” Jeremy said.
Kulers had only competed in a triathlon as an individual, so he and Jeremy had work ahead of them to complete the race as a duo. As a duo, both needed to perform at the same level.
“It took a while for us to get in sync with each other’s pace, because he has to constantly communicate to me during the whole race,” Jeremy said. “The most difficult part of the race is when I get around crowds, because I can’t hear Justin’s commands when we are running and riding the tandem bike.”
Jeremy and Kulers completed the triathlon in 1 hour and 24 minutes, making Jeremy the Men’s Tri 6 National Champion.
Also competing that day were veterans from across the country who re-affirmed that despite loss of limbs there is no loss of living life to the fullest.
“I was so inspired with other athletes who served our country and were there competing with loss of arms and legs,” Jeremy said. “You can always take other people’s accomplishments and use them as a source of inspiration.”
Jeremy also automatically won a spot on the Paratriathlon National Team which will compete in the ITU Paratriathlon World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand, Oct. 22.
“I’m looking forward to the world championship,” Jeremy said. “I have more training ahead of me but I take everything day by day and keep God as my head Coach. Life is full of challenges for everybody, but overcoming them is what makes you successful.”