Can't never could: Blind and deaf man training for triathlon

Deaf and blind man trains for triathlon
Published: Jun. 19, 2015 at 6:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 19, 2015 at 7:17 PM EDT
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LINCOLN COUNTY, NC (WBTV) - Patrick Vellia doesn't know the word "can't." The 28-year-old Lincoln County man is legally blind and deaf, which would make competing in a triathlon seem impossible. That's another word Patrick doesn't know.

"I was born blind, and when I was 4 years old I was diagnosed with hearing loss. But I still have some of both," Patrick said.

It's in his nature to be optimistic. With very low vision and very little hearing, Patrick is making the best of what he has left. He met another blind and deaf triathlete 11 years ago. That man inspired him to blast right through the obstacles and compete in a triathlon coming up on July 18. Right now he's in training with a personal trainer at Sally's YMCA in Denver, North Carolina.

"I got an email from my boss saying, 'I have another person who wants to train with you,'" Patrick's trainer Gina Roes explained. "'His name is Patrick. He's trying to train for a triathlon and oh, by the way, he's hearing impaired and legally blind.'" Gina said she knew it would be a challenge, but she had previous training in American Sign Language and eagerly prepared to train Patrick.

"A lot of people are intimidated when they encounter somebody that's different from them. They're not sure how to help and how to engage - so they don't. You just figure one thing out at a time, one challenge out at a time," Gina said.

The two train together twice a week with running, biking and swimming. Patrick can't hear Gina, so she makes sign language gestures into Patrick's hand and they can communicate almost perfectly, although both admit sometimes her attempts leave them both laughing.

Patrick's optimism is infectious. When asked what he says to other people who might be discouraged or believe they can't accomplish something, he jokingly makes a train gesture and says, "I think I can, I think I can." And there's no doubt he will. But one obstacle might get in his way.

A triathlon consists of 3 different parts: running, swimming and biking. Patrick has to have a "pilot" person to help him on all three. The biking part is threatening to squash his hopes at competition. He needs a tandem road racing bike and a person willing to ride in the front of the bike and steer. Gina and Patrick both hope someone might see his story and be willing to step in and help.

Patrick is adamant that obstacles can be overcome, or at least that they can be attempted. And that's what makes him so encouraging.

"If you think something's hard you can still always try. Like I recently went to the Whitewater center. It was the first time I ever tried the rope course. I think my interpreters that went with me were quite nervous to do it," Patrick said with a laugh. Without sight, he did it anyway. "I enjoyed it so much I was sad that we ran out of time."

Patrick has a special e-mail set up through the YMCA for well-wishers to offer encouragement.

He's also looking for someone willing to help "pilot" him on his triathlon events. Drop him a line at

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