At 42, Arthur Dixon has become the first blind person ever to complete the Coronation Double Century, an arduous cycling event notoriously dubbed the “Comrades of cycling”. Over 2000 cyclists gathered to take part in the event, which took place on the 22 November, in and around Swellendam.
The Coronation Double Century, now in its 16th year, is a team cycling event in which participants are given 10 hours and 30 minutes to complete the 205 km circular route. Cycling on a tandem bicycle with his pilot, Anton Oosthuizen, Arthur and his team mates managed to complete the route in just over 8 hours.
A convenient way to get fit
A piano tuner by trade, Dixon was born with congenital glaucoma and lost his vision completely at the age of 30. “I was always trying to find a way for a blind person to get fit in a convenient way,” he explains. “If you run you need a person to lead you, so it’s not impossible, but to me it just looked like a schlep.”
Before stumbling upon cycling, Arthur’s sporting interests were restricted to horse riding and dressage - a method of competitive horse training aimed at maximising horses’ agility, balance and performance.
When a friend encouraged him to join the Blind Tandem Association, however, Arthur took up cycling in an effort to get fit. “They’d actually been nagging me for a while to start doing it,” he recalls, “But I was looking for a pilot that was dedicated and that wasn’t going to waste my time.” Then Arthur met Anton, and the two men began cycling together in April this year.
Although he has been cycling for just 18 months, Arthur has already taken part in a number of different cycling events, including the Pick ‘n Pay Argus Cycle Tour, the Burger, and various “fun rides”. The most challenging event, however, was yet to come, as the Coronation Double Century is almost twice the distance of the 109 km Argus.
Arthur and the other 10 members of his team, Urban Edge, battled steep climbs up the Tradouw and Op de Tradouw passes, as well as strong side- and headwinds in the last 80 km of the race.
“The hills were very challenging,” he admits, “but actually I think that the last 20 km were the most challenging, because by then you’re already sore and tired.”
Despite the exhausting demands of the rugged race landscape, Arthur looks back on the event with fond memories. His favourite part, he adds proudly, was the spirit of his team mates and their commitment to get him through the race. “They were absolutely awesome! They would push me up the hills, there was a lot of slip streaming, a lot of talking, it was actually very special.”
Arthur also mentions the sounds of the birds, waterfalls and whinnying horses as favourite features of the route. “Op de Tradouw must have been very pretty,” he says wistfully.
Despite his achievements, this remarkable man wouldn’t describe himself as a particularly adventurous person. “Maybe a little more adventurous than normal,” he admits reluctantly, after a bit of probing, “but nothing drastic.”
Getting fit doesn’t necessarily entail straining up mountain passes and enduring marathon cycling events, so why does he do it?
“To prove to myself that I’m valuable,” he explains. “Blind people are often demasculated, it’s a fact, and this was to prove to myself that I’m not that useless.”
Although the Coronation Double Century is behind him, Arthur’s training days are far from over. He and Anton will be taking part in the Burger cycling tour on Sunday, and, all going well, the Argus in March.
He hopes that his efforts will encourage more people to “get off their butts” and take up cycling. “Hopefully I’ll encourage, not just the visually impaired, but everyone to take part,” he says. “Hopefully they’ll think, hey, if he can do it, then so can I!”
(Donna Warnett, Health24, 2008)