Legally-blind athlete Shades Koehler stays on course with the help of a champion triathlete

Posted at 5:57 PM, Jun 21, 2024

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Shades Koehler’s sneakers pound the pavement at the Richmond Strikers West Creek Complex.

He’s focusing on his steps ahead, even though they’re quite difficult to see.

“I'm visually impaired," the 16-year-old athlete explained.

Shades was born with achromatopsia, a rare eye condition that makes it nearly impossible to see in bright light.

He’s legally blind, but that hasn't stopped him from running, swimming and biking.

"All the things I like to do," he said.

Koehler needs a little more direction, which is where 17-year-old Issac Lamprecht steps in.

“I can rely on his eyes instead of my eyes," Koehler said.

The New Kent athlete serves as Koehler's para-triathlon guide, ensuring his strokes, strides, and pedals stay on track.

"We're running together," Lamprecht said. "I'm just making sure that he goes the right places."

But Lamprecht isn’t your average guide.

"I don't think I can find somebody faster than Issac," said Koehler.

He’s one of the best triathletes in the country.

"In terms of U.S. development, U.S. talent, he's at the absolutely the top of it," Michael Harlow, owner of Endorphin Fitness, said.

Harlow has coached the Team USA racer for the past six years.

When he learned Koehler was looking for someone to help direct him in his races, he connected him with Lamprecht.

"It just made me excited that he was willing to spend his time helping me," Koehler said.

"It's a new challenge, and I like challenges," said Lamprecht.

For the past 10 months, the pair has practiced staying in sync weekly.

"I have to pace for him instead of pacing for myself, and so that's probably the most difficult challenge," Lamprecht explained.

Lamprecht runs a four-minute and 19-second mile, so he's used to leading the pack, but he’s willing to stay back to train his new friend.

"I'm like about to fall over, and then Isaac's like, okay, when do I do the next one?" Koehler laughed.

But don’t let this former obstacle course racer downplay his talent, Koehler has been named to the USA Paratriathlon Team after only starting the sport last January.

"The amount that he's progressing in the last year is definitely very, very impressive," Lamprecht said. "It's not something that many people can do."

"It's just amazing for an athlete to overcome so many challenges and still accomplish so very much," said Coach Harlow who now conditions the duo on their brand-new tandem bike.

The pair had been borrowing a bike from someone in Washington D.C. until this week when the new bike, which is sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation and Foreseeable Future arrived.

"It's custom made for us," said Koehler.

Koehler and Lamprecht will compete in the Paralympics National Championships in Wisconsin this weekend.

“I'm excited, scared, and ready all at the same time," said Koehler.

This could be their final race together, as Lamprecht has earned his pro card to race for big money. He’s held off on accepting it until he and Koehler can compete together this summer.

"He's like selfless because he is willing to give up his time," said Koehler.

But training with the visually impaired athlete gives Lamprecht something he can’t get on his own.

"It's more of a team feel because it's not just one person who can pull off the whole thing," Lamprecht, who is hoping for a new award to add to his collection Sunday, said.

"That would be super cool because it's a different type of medal, and I think the different types of medals are the ones that mean the most to me," he explained.

Win or lose, the newly formed bond between these two athletes won’t be broken.

Koehler and Lamprecht will compete at 6:30 Sunday morning in Wisconsin, and they’ll have a whole team of athletes in Central Virginia cheering them on.

As for what’s next, Koehler hopes to compete in the 2028 or 2032 Paralympics, and Lamprecht heads off to Charlotte, NC to join Wingate University's triathlon team this fall.

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