Blind veteran aims to complete Ironman competition

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Photo: KTVK
Photo: KTVK

Gilbert, AZ (KTVK) — “I don’t quit.”

That’s what Michael Somsan said as he spoke about his training for an Ironman triathlon. He believes it is his responsibility to be an example to show his daughters.

The Ironman is a brutal assault on any athlete. Competitors swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 and then run a marathon.

But Somsan has been here before, in a place where a situation seemed impossible, and every time he finds a way.

When he started training for a triathlon, he knew swimming would be the most difficult part.

“The hard part is pacing,” he said between laps at the Gilbert Lifetime.

Then he turned back to his fitness partner and asked a simple question.

“Am I facing the right way?”

You see, Somsan is completely blind.

“When I do tandem bike, I can talk to my pilot,” he said. “Or running side by side, so I can talk to them. Swimming I can’t do that. You can’t talk.”

He follows another swimmer tethered by rope to keep him on course.

“It’s inspiring, you know?” said Somsan’s technique coach, Nick Hansen. “He keeps trudging along and getting better.”

Somsan has always embraced challenges. He was a first lieutenant in the army from 1992 to 1996. Then a twist of fate. There was a fight. Somsan said they were defending a young woman and the fight escalated.

“The person I was fighting eventually went and got a gun, came back and shot me in the head” Somsan said.

He underwent 13 surgeries, but his optical nerves were severed. He would never see again.

“I felt in some ways like I failed,” he said. “I should have been stronger in terms of not letting this happen to me.”

Somsan admitted he was scared. The military career he planned was gone. Becoming blind at the age of 25 was the greatest challenge he would ever face.

The person who shot Somsan skipped bail and never faced a judge. That drove Somsan to an interest in the law. He earned his law degree at the University of Arizona.

“Everyone was so inspired by his story,” said Megan Higgins, the general manager at Lifetime Fitness. “It took a little time to figure out the details and sort out exactly what he needed.”

But now he has his team in place and he has little doubt he will tackle this challenge.

“Everybody says you’re inspirational,” Somsan said. “What is inspirational is people who volunteer their time for me.”

Somsan completed his first triathlon Sunday in Tempe as part of his training. As he suspected, the swim in the lake was the most challenging. He plans to compete in the Ironman Nov. 16.

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