Paying it Forward: Gotta Want It!!
For the first-ever triathlon I did (an Olympic-distance in 2011), I happened to volunteer to be a home-stay for the DC Triathlon Club. He was a first-year pro from Australia, just a few months younger than me, who goes by the name of "Foxy"—I still follow him on Facebook and Twitter and he just so happens to be killing it in the Olympic and Half distances. I offered him a free place to crash while coming to race in the United States at minimal expense/hassle to me. Little did I know that just a few short years later I would be in the same shoes, looking for people willing to take in some up-and-coming cash-strapped newbie pros looking to save some dough. From there, I was hooked. I learned that serving as a homestay is a great excuse to meet interesting people, learn more about the sport of triathlon and "give back" in a way that actually is pretty self-serving as long as you like meeting new and interesting people ;)
Then in 2013, I hosted Diane Berberian, a paratriathlete racing in the visually impaired category. We were both doing CapTexTri and she was introduced through a friend of a friend of a Rev3 triathlon teammate so I got to welcome her in with open arms despite knowing exactly what "visually impaired" meant.
Shortly after she arrived, we walked down South Congress in Austin and got burgers and chatted about Kona (she helped inspire my goal to make it to Hawaii), about triathlon and about her new experiences as a visually-impaired triathlete and the discrimination she and fellow competitors face as a result.
She has macular degeneration, which means she has slowly lost her field of vision, including the ability recognize faces and safely train and race alone as a result. Part of that loss includes a harrowing Kona story where she gradually lost her vision out on the Queen K across the course of race day while still trying to be her competitive self. Today, she leads the charge among the visually impaired to give herself and others the chance to challenge themselves and compete despite what others might see as "limitations".
Today, she is trying to qualify for RIO 2016!!! I love following her updates and would love nothing more than to see her chase her dreams!! You can learn more about her and hopefully be as inspired by her as I am here: www.dianeberberian.org.
Diane was one of the best homestay athletes I have ever hosted and is part of the reason I am so supportive of the homestay experience: for starters, it's a great way to learn more about someone else's experience, whether they are a professional triathlete (you can learn training tips from them!) or someone like Dianne who opened my eyes to the paratriathlon world and some of the discrimination that even happens within their ranks (i.e. forcing "visually impaired" athletes to wear black-out glasses to "level" the playing field with full-blind athletes who have been so their entire lives, instead of creating a new category). In addition, despite offering her my bed, she insisted on sleeping on the blow-up mattress so it was almost like no one was even there ;) .
She ended up doing amazing and I had a blast cheering her on the home town course as she crushed it along the streets of Austin to podium in her category!! Even now it is amazing to watch her "make training happen" (her motto is "Gotta Want It!") and overcome her limitations on a daily basis. I consider Dianne one of my closest triathlon friends, an inspiration and someone who initially helped plant the Kona bug that has me inspired to now try to return to the big island as a professional triathlete. I also would love to be a guide for her or another visually impaired triathlete if the opportunity ever came up—the way she described the teamwork and trust involved was phenomenal and yet another way to give back to the tri community.
If you haven't considered acting as a homestay for a hometown race, think about it: there's little to no down-side for you. Honestly, most triathletes seeking out a homestay are *incredibly* boring and are just there to sleep, eat and race. However, the benefit you provide by offering a bed to crash in is astronomical for so many of our up and coming pros who are pinching pennies or juggling multiple jobs in order to try to make their dreams happen.