Niket Dalal is first wholly visually-challenged man to finish event.
Niket Dalal, a 38-year-old from Aurangabad, created history on February 7 by becoming the first completely visually-challenged athlete to finish an Ironman triathlon. Associated with Adventures Beyond Barriers Foundation (ABBF), Mr. Dalal completed the gruelling Ironman 70.3 — consisting of a 1.9 km swim, a 90 km bicycle ride and a 21.1 km run — with assistance from his sighted companion, Arham Shaikh. Mr. Shaikh is the youngest Indian to finish the 5000 km coast-to-coast cross-country race in the U.S. “The first Indian achieved an Ironman finish in 2005. Till 2020, we had no disabled athlete to have completed the race. I believe if we have to work towards complete inclusivity, this huge gap of 15 years needs to be bridged and this is one of the major reasons why I did this,” Mr. Dalal said.Mr. Dalal and Mr. Shaikh completed the race in seven hours and 44 minutes, with 46 mins to spare. They stood second in their category of physically disabled athletes, and were the first Indian team to finish a Ironman 70.3 triathlon.Mr. Dalal, a professional speech therapist, participated as part of a team from the Pune-based PowerPeaks Athlete Lab, which is founded by coach and pro-athlete Chaitanya Velhal. Mr. Velhal has been racing as well as training participants for triathlons, cycling races and marathons for the last five years.Rigorous training“It took a lot of detailed training, endurance and fitness assessments and diet planning to bring Niket up to the training required. The first leg of the race required Niket and Arham to complete the entire swim course while being tethered together. Swimming together for 1.9 km in the open sea with hundreds of other athletes, while trying to keep to the course was extremely challenging,” Mr. Velhal said. “This was followed by a quick transition to the 90 km bike ride, where the riders faced heavy winds and dehydration but there were special aid stations set up. The most exhausting segment was the 21.1 km run. The temperatures were soaring and the landscape was difficult, but they conquered with strength and flair,” the coach said. Mr. Shaikh added, “Both of us trained hard under Mr. Velhal for the last four months, continuously refining and improving upon our skill-set for the huge task facing us.”Always having had a passion for sports, Mr. Dalal has been a State-level swimmer and has participated in and won many sea swimming competitions. He took up cycling as a sport last year and completed the grueling Manali to Khardungala cycling expedition in August 2019.