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Amy Dixon: Paralympian, Advocate, Mentor and Speaker

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Voice Over:

Ophthalmology 360 presents Amy Dixon: Paralympian, advocate, mentor, and speaker.

Introduction

Amy Dixon:

My name is Amy Dixon. I am a Paralympian in the sport of triathlon. I am currently a professional cyclist on the US Paralympic Cycling Team. I’m training for the next Paralympics in Paris next year in 2024. I am the founder of Camp No Site, No Limits for visually impaired athletes to learn how to do swim, bike, run at an elite level. My current position is I am the director of patient advocacy at Eye C Better.

The Diagnosis

Amy Dixon:

I was waiting tables back in college at the age of 22, and I was in my fifth year of school when everything started strobing and flashing one day. And so I waited to go to the doctor until it got so bad that I was going to put things down on the table at the restaurant and I would miss. And so I went in to go get my annual migraine checkup from my neurologist, and he held his hands out to the side and asked me how many fingers he was holding up and I said, your arms are missing, it’s like a curtain on either side of your shoulder. And he’s like, you need to see an ophthalmologist immediately. And they said, well, I hate to break it to you. You’ve got a rare form of uveitis and you’re probably going to lose your sight within a year, and there’s not a lot we can do to help you.

My only experience with people with vision loss at the time was I grew up in a suburb outside of New York City and was seeing people on the subway begging, panhandling that were blind with signs saying, please help. And so I thought, oh my gosh, I’m not going to be able to afford to keep a roof over my head. I had no frame of reference for what vision loss looked like and what was possible with vision loss.

The Starting Point

Amy Dixon:

The primary treatment for uveitis is high dose steroids. And so I was on 80 milligrams a day for months at a time. And as you know with steroids like that, they cause a significant amount of weight gain. And I gained 75 pounds on the steroids. And I was like, oh my gosh, I got to figure out a way to lose this weight. I remember passing by the spin room at the YMCA and seeing all these women coming out high-fiving each other. And I thought, wow, the music sounds really good. Maybe I’ll try that. But I was so embarrassed because I’m like, oh, here I am with my guide dog. I’m overweight. I don’t really belong with all these skinny women. So I would sneak in there when they left the room and I would turn the lights out and I’d sit in there with my guide dog with my headphones on and spin.

And then finally one day, the instructor busted me and she goes, I see you coming in here every day after class. People would love to have you. And she was right. Everybody was so welcoming, and they were super excited to have a dog in the class. And so through social media, someone said, well, you’re swimming and biking and running. Have you thought about doing triathlon? I said, well, that’s nuts. I said, how do blind people do that? I said, I only have 10 degrees of visual field. It’s not super safe.

Newscaster 1:

USA Paralympic triathlon national champion Amy Dixon.

Newscaster 2:

Caught up with Amy Dixon.

Newscaster 3:

Amy Dixon.

Newscaster 4:

Amy Dixon.

Newscaster 5:

Amy Dixon.

Newscaster 6:

Amy Dixon.

Amy Dixon:

I’ll try anything once, twice if it works.

Being “Guided” to Victory

Amy Dixon:

The challenge for me is finding somebody who can swim, bike and run at 10% faster than you. I’m so blessed that Kirsten Sash, she’s a PA down in Tennessee, has been my guide for a number of years. Then I have a variety of guides that I train with out here in San Diego. There’s an army of people that just help me get my workouts done, but the guides themselves are a godsend. Kirsten has been amazing. It’s been a village to get us to the Paralympics.

It Takes a Village

Amy Dixon:

So my disease came out of remission in 2020, and my whole body swelled up to the point where my shoulder was so swollen it kept dislocating at night. My collarbone just disintegrated into a million pieces. It was ripping off pieces of my collarbone every night while I slept. And seven weeks after I had the shoulder surgery, I ended up with a pulmonary embolism and gaining 45 pounds of fluid on my body. So I went from being number two in the world in my sport and likely to win a medal in Tokyo to being lucky to be alive.

Doing the Best with What You Have, Where You Are

Amy Dixon:

Do the best with what you have, where you are today. And I thought, okay, what am I good at? What can I do and be competitive and be proud of right now? And I said, well, I’m one of the strongest cyclists in the world in triathlon. And I thought, well, if I can’t be lean and I can’t be in the body that I was in before, what can I do with the body that I have now? If I can’t be lean, I’m going to be strong as shit. I’m just going to hit the gym. I’m going to do lots of lifting, lots of heavy squats, lots of deadlifts, and be a track cyclist. So now I’m on the national team for cycling. Yeah. Now I have a shot at making Paris next year.

So I’m not a superhero, I’m just me. I just happen to be very assertive. I advocate for myself and I speak my mind, and that gets me into trouble, but it also gets me ahead at the same time. So the only limits are in your head, not in your body.

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