South Charlotte

Para-athlete competing in Tri! Ballantyne event

Patrick Vellia, 28, doesn't let hearing and vision impairments keep him from staying fit.
Patrick Vellia, 28, doesn't let hearing and vision impairments keep him from staying fit. PATRICK VELLIA

Patrick Vellia is a 28-year-old, newly minted Gardner-Webb University graduate from Denver, N.C., who trains for a triathlon five days a week at Sally’s YMCA near Lake Norman.

He happens to be deaf and blind.

Vellia has participated in open-water swims and road races, but never all three in one event. He will be the first para-athlete to compete in the Morrison Family YMCA Tri! Ballantyne.

“We are excited about this opportunity with Patrick,” said Lisa Johnson, Tri! Ballantyne event director. “It will help us learn how to accommodate para-athletes. We are making every effort to ensure communication processes are in place for a successful outcome for him, and we are thrilled that he chose our venue for his first triathlon.”

In its sixth year, Ballantyne’s only triathlon takes place July 18 and features a 300-yard pool swim, a 12.7-mile bike ride, a 5K run and a Kids Triathlon. The physical feats are followed by a Tri! Fest with food vendors, booths and live music.

Johnson said, “In addition to the para-athlete category, the event has 750 participants. Motorists should be cautious driving on July 18. It takes 30 police officers and 300 volunteers to pull it off safely.”

Though Vellia is legally blind, he can still see the black tiles of the pool and use those as a guide. As for the running portion, Vellia will be tethered to a guide. For the bike race, Vellia has a pilot with him on a tandem bike. The pilot will finger sign language spellings into his right hand, or tap his hand to get ready for a turn.

Give them proper motivation and inspiration, and a person with disabilities can do pretty much anything.

Patrick Vellia, 28-year-old para-athlete

“Training to cycle on a road is proving much harder and more dangerous,” Vellia said. “We had traditional pedals and shoes on the tandem bike, but when the pilot shifted gears without warning, my feet flew off. We switched to bike cleats and clips, but I can’t release my shoes fast enough to balance the bike when we stop. So we’re still working on that one.”

Optimistic, motivated, goal-oriented. There’s not much stopping him.

In May, he graduated from Gardner-Webb with a Bachelor of Arts in American sign language and a minor in business administration. After completing an internship at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults, Vellia completed an independent study on the syntax of American sign language. He also plans to pursue a master’s degree, but first wants to gain work experience in the Charlotte area.

“Those with disabilities are an oppressed minority,” Vellia said, “as society believes they do not have the abilities to participate in organized athletic activities. However, this is not true in the majority of cases unless you are physically disabled to the point you have to rely on robotic equipment to compete. Give them proper motivation and inspiration, and a person with disabilities can do pretty much anything.”

Emily Mathias is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Emily? Email her at emilymat@Hotmail.com.

Learn more:

For more information on the July 18 Tri! Ballantyne, go to ymcacharlotte.org.

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