Sightless, but with a vision

Five years ago, Annie Young lost her sight due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy. But she never lost her vision. Young, a 43-year-old mother of teenage boys, will be competing in her second straight weekend triathlon Sunday in Spicer. She is...

Five years ago, Annie Young lost her sight due to an adverse reaction to chemotherapy. But she never lost her vision.

Young, a 43-year-old mother of teenage boys, will be competing in her second straight weekend triathlon Sunday in Spicer.

She is one of over 350 competitors registered for the Green Lake Triathlon, according to race director Dave Baker. The race begins at 9 a.m. at Melvin's on the Lake. Her sons are unable to be there this weekend because one is already attending college and the other is in basic training in the Army. Her husband, Jim, will be at the event.

Young also competed last weekend at the Brewhouse Triathlon on Pike Lake in Duluth.

"I'm really excited because I know a little bit more of what to expect," said Young. "Last weekend I was very scared. I could hear my heart beating before we started."


Young was born in Chatfield and grew up in Rochester, graduating from Rochester Mayo. She went to Rochester Community College for one year and then spent 14 years in the Air Force where she was in a unit that identified hazardous materials. She eventually became a special agent in the Federal Aviation Agency (now part of Homeland Security).

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 18 years ago and underwent treatment at the Mayo Clinic and also United Methodist Hospital. Because of the adverse reaction to medical treatments she received, including chemotherapy, Young eventually began losing her sight five years ago and today can only see silhouettes of a close-range object.

Eventually, she enrolled at Vision Loss Resources in Minneapolis, a school designed to help people gain the skills back they had before their vision loss.

"They try to get you reacclimated with life again," Young explained. "They teach you things like how to use the microwave, the stove and how to do the laundry. And they teach you how to get from Point A to Point B in the community."

It was there that Young was taught how to swim. One day, while taking out the frustrations of a bad day on the stationary bike in the exercise room, Young's accelerated pedaling caught the eye of a bike racer.

"He said 'You sure can pedal' and tried to convince me to enter a race," said Young. "Then my swimming instructor told me I should train and enter a triathlon.

"I was talking to someone in church about it one day and Leslie Ernst overheard me and said she competed in triathlons and would be willing to train me."

Young, bold and adventurous, decided to give it a try. After many grueling hours of training, she felt confident enough to compete last weekend.


"We tried a lot of different ways for me to train and Leslie's family was very helpful going on the internet and looking up ways to help us."

To practice swimming, Ernst tethered her foot to Young's swimsuit and swam in front of her. In the running portion, Ernst runs ahead of her, holding one end of Young's white cane, while Young holds the other. And they ride a tandem bike together.

"Since the beginning of this year, Leslie has relentlessly been researching how to train me because she had never done such a thing before," Young remarked. "My dream became her vision. She offers me infinite optimism, never runs out of energy and never lets me off with excuses."

Young admits the training has not been all pleasant and free of frustrations.

"I have my good days and my bad," she said. "Often people see blind persons as helpless, hopeless and pitiable. It was so refreshing to be in the company of someone who saw me as successful, productive and independent.'

Sometimes Ernst's help was almost too good. Ernst has been training herself for a Lifetime Triathlon of Olympic distance. Her teaching and refinement helped Young's times significantly improve. On one occasion in the pool, Young got off to such a fast start that Ernst was caught off guard and unable to get in front of her. Young ended up banging her head on the end wall.

"We put bubble-wrap in my swim cap after that," laughed Young.

Young and Ernst have run two 5k races together. They ran at the Mall of America in a race for breast cancer and tried out each holding an end of the cane for the first time. In the second race in Burnsville, Ernst intentionally dropped the cane just before the finish line and got behind Young and pushed her forward.


"We happened to be competing in the same age group in that race and she knew were placing first and second so she wanted me to experience to glory of finishing first. I still get a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes when I recall that day."

Ernst just takes her duties in stride.

"I enjoy working with Annie," she says, humbly. "She's an inspiration to me, too. I enjoy her desire to try anything. She doesn't like to give up."

Young got a scare at the Duluth race last weekend when another swimmer crossed her tether line and pulled her under the water.

When she surfaced, Young could hear the lifeguards on their jet skis and thought they were coming to get her and pull her out of the water.

"I yelled out 'No way' because I wasn't about to stop after I had come this far," she said. I was scared, but I kept going."

When Young finished the triathlon, her emotions caught up with her.

"I started crying right away," she recalls. "I thought about all I had been through and how much Leslie had done for me. I also thought I would be exhausted, but I felt really good."


And now she is ready to experience it all over again. And she is feeling as if there is no end in sight to the things she can accomplish.

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