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December 26, 2014

Talking to God, people cheering help Oxford deaf triathlete get through competition

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Posted: Friday, June 6, 2014 11:35 pm | Updated: 10:53 pm, Mon Jun 9, 2014.

Lord only knows what gets someone through a triathlon.

The 2.5-mile swim amid a chaotic school of 2,500 other humans would seem challenging enough, but then comes the 112-mile bike ride, followed by a marathon. What gets someone through all of that?

The answers are probably as individual as the special individuals who try it, but Matt Kochie uses his keen mind to carry on a quiet conversation while his keen eyes take in his surroundings.

“I tend to carry on conversations with God while I’m biking,” said Kochie, who lives in Oxford with his wife, Christy, and daughters Grace, 7, and Lila, 6. “The sight of people cheering along the course helps me keep going; especially when I’m tired and want to stop.

“Even though I can’t hear the words they’re saying; just seeing their faces and expressions is enough for me.  I believe God gives me the strength and endurance to finish each race.”

Lots of barriers tempt a triathlete. There’s physical agony. There are flat bike tires and wayward swimmers.

Kochie fought through a herniated disk during his 13-hour-plus, multi-discipline romp through The Woodlands, Texas, on May 17.

But being deaf was no barrier for the 32-year-old Kochie. It never was in pursuits of various sports through high school and never will be, he says.

So, let’s avoid politically correct terms.

“Most deaf people don’t like to be called ‘hearing impaired’ because that implies something is wrong with us; that we need to be fixed,” he responded via email. “We see ourselves as normal; just like all other hearing people.  

“I have faced people who thought deaf people can’t do some things or deaf people are easy to defeat in sports, etc. I have proved many people wrong.”

Never known another way

 Kochie has been deaf all of his life because of complications at birth in Edgewater Park, N.J. That reality inspired his nine-year career as an assistive technician trainer for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.

Being deaf never stopped him from playing soccer and basketball as a kid. It never stopped him from playing as a tight end and defensive end in football and center fielder in baseball through high school. It never stopped him from wrestling.

The only thing that stopped Kochie’s pursuits of team sports was a bum shoulder.

“I did wrestling for only 1 year due to my shoulder injuries,” Kochie said. “I dislocated my shoulder six times.  

“My parents and doctor recommended me to stop playing football and do surgery ASAP.  I thought about it a lot, and my older brother, Andy, had the same problem, and he didn’t get to play football during his senior year. I didn’t want to end up like him and decided to take the risk and play football my senior year.”

He played offense only as a senior and made it through six games.

For every sport, Kochie had a way around his inability to hear.

“Deafness was not really a barrier in baseball,” he said. “When I was in center field and the ball was coming my way, I would call out “mine” so that my teammate would know that I will catch the ball and not try to run over me.  

“In football, I relied on an interpreter for offense calls.”

He’s never used an interpreter in triathlons.

“So I never hear the announcements at the beginning of the race or the calling of names for awards at the end of the race,” he said. “If I see that I have a chance to place, I would find a random hearing person to let me know if they hear my name.  

“I’m very observant to make sure I am 100 percent safe during races. While biking, I look back over my shoulder occasionally to make sure it’s safe for me to pass and check for car drivers.”

Will, way, challenge

Kochie has always had a hard time ignoring a challenge, so he felt the pull when his other brother and a deaf friend, Pell City’s Chris Moon, did triathlons.

Kochie’s wife, who is also deaf, tossed in extra motivation.

“Christy wanted to see my commitment in training first before I bought a road bike,” Kochie said. “Chris and I did several 5K, 10K and a half-marathon race. Then Christy surprised me with a used road bike for Christmas.”

Kochie hit the road, trained and did six races in 2010, including one duathlon, three sprint distance triathlons and two Olympic distance events. From 2010 to this year, he did 10 sprints, seven Olympics and one half-ironman and the full ironman in Texas in May.

The full ironman was toughest, starting with the swimming leg. There were no individual or wave starts, like Kochie had experienced in previous races. All 2,500 swimmers started at the same time.

“I got stuck behind a lot of slow swimmers, which slowed me down, and some people were swimming diagonally, not paying attention,” he said. “So I had to really slow down my swimming and keep an eye out so I wouldn’t get kicked in the face.”

Swimming is one of Kochie’s strong suits. He trains by swimming an hour non-stop at the Anniston YMCA, but the traffic kept him from swimming the 2.5-mile first leg at his desired pace in Texas.

He’d have to rely on his bike training --- both on the Chief Ladiga Trail and in the YMCA’s spin class --- to help him make up time. He set a goal for seven hours and got it done in 6:20, despite losing about 20 minutes changing a flat tire.

“I was VERY pleased with my time,” he said.

Then came the marathon, which he finished in 5:17. He didn’t expect better, largely because he hadn’t trained heavily on running since running a marathon in March.

He was, however, pleasantly “shocked” to finish the triathlon in 13 hours, three minutes and 44 seconds.

“My goal was to complete it in 15 hours because of a herniated disc in my lower back,” he said. “I hurt my back in December; then again a few weeks before the Ironman. It was due to not stretching good enough all these years.

“I was very nervous I wouldn’t be able to compete. I went to physical therapy often at Champions Sports Medicine with (physical therapist) Ryan (Huff) and (physical therapist assistant) Tonia (Wright). If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be an Ironman now.”

What he’s missing

A herniated disk didn’t stop Kochie from completing an ironman, and deafness never had a chance. He feels the same and trains the same as others.

One difference for him, though, is he must rely more on himself.

“It’s a disadvantage that I am not able to know what everyone is talking about in group training for run and bike,” he said. “I’d like to be able to have conversations with some of them and get some advice and share tips, and so forth.”

But as it’s been with other sports he’s played, he’s found a way.

“The function (or lack thereof) of my ears has nothing to do with the competition itself,” he said.

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