My hearing loss should never dominate.

Triathlon is an endurance sport where three sequential disciplines are carried out – at various distances. The longest and hardest is the Ironman consisting of a 3.8 km swim in the open sea, a 180 km bicycle ride and a 42 km marathon run. The first person crossing the finishing line after the last discipline is the winner.  Jens Rydén (Sweden) competes only against himself; but also against the chronic Ménière’s disease.  

“I’m focused on the experience, on enjoying myself, I’m not chasing any times. Nowadays I’m good at listening to my body so that I can adapt to what it and the disease tolerate. But I never let the disease win. Only if I get a vertigo attack do I surrender to the little Frenchman in my ear. In this situation, I don’t have any other choice because my balance is gone.”

The beginning of the disease
Jens has been deaf on one ear since birth. In 2002, he was diagnosed with Ménière’s, a chronic disease of the inner ear causing hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo attacks.  Jens’ disease disappeared that same year but reappeared actively again in 2010. This time it affected his hearing ear, and he needed a hearing aid to be able to hear. Even if the hearing loss and the disease are part of his life, Jens never allows them to dominate. The sport is bigger.

“A hearing loss is of course always a handicap, but if you choose to not regard it as a problem, then it’s not a handicap anymore. I always inform the people I train with that I hear poorly. So far, I haven’t met many people who mind tapping me on the shoulder, coming closer or speaking a bit louder and clearer. When I forgot to inform, I often heard afterwards that I was considered nonchalant. It is easier to be pro-active than having to clear up misunderstandings afterwards. At triathlon competitions, I inform the officials standing where we come out of the water about my illness. Swimming affects the balance of most people; working out horizontally and having water in the ears. During training or competition I always wear a bracelet with my personal information, my illness and the telephone number of my family.”

The athlete who became a triathlete
The goal is to become stronger and faster, but most of all to keep the illness in check, in a healthy body, according to Jens. He is a very experienced runner having participated in a series of half-marathons; however, it was an inflammation in his hip that caused him to turn to triathlon.
“I was not allowed to run for a longer periods but I could swim and bicycle without straining my injury. That felt good and I started training with the triathlon club Heleneholms IF Tri Team. I never regretted that.”

The challenge: Challenge Denmark
The Malmö Triathlon was Jens Rydén’s first triathlon competition. Now, the Challenge Denmark is waiting in June 2015. It is a competition over the same distances as the Ironman: a 3.8 km swim, a
180 km bicycle ride and a 42 km marathon run. Until then, there will be 5-10 training units per week with varying lengths.

”I try to divide the training up like a triathlon race, meaning I bicycle the most and swim the least. The goal with my training sessions is to be able to run a marathon without breaking down - nothing more, nothing less. In addition, I train with weights and balls; I also train my balance and do yoga. When I ride my bike, I bicycle on streets and cross country. In autumn, winter and early spring, I use a mountain bike or an exercise bike, during the season I ride my racing bike. I run mostly on asphalt streets, but I also like running cross country. The terrain around Bjärred is not exciting so I have to find better places for my cross country runs. I train swimming in pools when the ocean is too cold. With a wetsuit it is no problem to swim in the ocean as long as the temperature is over 12°C.”

Is it possible to swim with a hearing aid?
“No, it’s easier with arms and legs. Well, all joking aside, there are hearing aids that are completely waterproof. However, I don’t understand why you would use hearing aids while swimming; there is nothing to hear under water. I always use hearing aids when I train in a group, except when swimming.  When I train alone, I use my water resistant Phonak hearing aids during certain runs. It’s wonderful to hear the birds singing or whether the rhythm of my steps is right. During competition I never use hearing aids.”

Jens Rydén has many strengths as an athlete; his strong will is probably his greatest.
“I don’t focus on times, they are not important for a lot of reasons. A training unit or a race can be greatly inspiring or triumphant in other ways than performing in a certain time. If I have a bad day because of my disease, it is an indescribable victory to be able to do a training unit or to run although my balance is bad and I stagger back and forth like a drunk. Such a victory cannot be compared to a time performance.

A creative job with many contacts
In addition to his life as an athlete, Jens works as a technical information officer, illustrator, graphic designer and photographer. Every day he is in contact with many people.

“I use Comfort Audio’s Conference Microphone DC20 together with the corresponding neckloop receiver and mini microphone. These products are essential during meetings. During telephone meetings or video conferences I place the DC20 close to the speaker. I like that I can understand speech much clearer than when only using hearing aids. Using the DC20, I can even take notes because I do not have to lip read to understand what is being said.

Find strength and take space
Everybody feels better through exercise, and Jens believes that physical training is extra beneficial for people with a hearing loss.

“Good health and a fit body strengthen you mentally and improve your confidence and self-esteem. This is important in a world where handicapped people don’t always find their place or are accepted the way they are.”