Thursday, July 21, 2011

On Assignment : Getting 2 Tri Paratriathlete Camp

I think this has to be the work I'm the proudest of since I started doing photography. It has nothing to do with how I used lighting (actually it was all natural light except for the group photo below) or how I used gear to capture these images. It's about the moments, faces, emotions, reactions, and interactions between an incredible group of individuals.
I came into this hoping to create some powerful and dramatic images, similar to some of the athletic portraiture I've done recently. I still think they are powerful, due to the individuals and the subject matter. But that all changed when I arrived and started to shoot as a documentary photographer or photojournalist. Keep in mind I have no formal training in either, but respect the kind of work that these photographers do.

I'll post several of my favorites from this 3 day event and finish it off with a video slideshow that captures a lot of what went on.

In my mind I had envisioned a certain style of photos that I wanted to create. Once I was on site, I changed my mind. Initially I thought this was going to be a camp for more experienced athletes that had lost a limb due to military service or some sort of trauma. What I found was just normal everyday people that had chosen to live life, to experience it all without being held back from being confined to a wheelchair. This was truly inspiring and something that I hope I never forget.

First you should know what the Getting 2 Tri Foundation is all about.
"The Getting2Tri foundation is a one-of-a-kind organization that spans its focus from athletic endeavors to the changing of people’s lifestyles. We build communities for the coaching, training and mentoring of individuals with disabilities in the sports of swimming, cycling, and running. Individuals with disabilities participating are called "paratriathletes" and their backgrounds are just as varied as their goals; wounded veterans from recent conflicts to individuals with limb loss due to disease or paralysis or injuries inflicted through some form of trauma."
The first night was a meet & greet for all the attendees, coaches & volunteers. I covered the event as an outsider, but was quickly drawn in by some of the attendees. Jeremy (below) is quite the character and made it difficult to take his picture. When I would approach he would make goofy faces that would have everyone around laughing as well as myself.

I even tried to be sneaky and put the camera down on my side and shoot blind. I put the camera in burst mode and fired off 10-12 shots. Didn't matter, as soon as Jeremy saw me, he put on the goofy face.

One of the things I learned by observing Jeremy was his independence.  He attempted to go down these stairs and was going to jump them, but due to the concern seen in our faces, he used some help and rolled backwards on his chair. I did see several of them ride down an escalator at the hotel with no problem.

The second night was another casual dinner. We all separated into groups and went out to local restaurants in the downtown area. Although I brought my camera, I didn't take any photos. Instead, I listened and talked to Karen and Carolyn and got to know them. I learned a bit about them and those that have chosen to lead a full life despite the loss of their legs. First of all, they had a sense of humor and were not afraid or better yet, ashamed to talk about their circumstance. I don't want to use the term disability, because I never saw them as being disabled. They are fully able and capable of doing the same things as any normal person. They just have to adapt and overcome some obstacles in order to do the same as anyone else. Their attitude, strength and perseverance is inspiring and motivating. A theme that was present and felt by many of us.

The next day was training in the pool. This is when I completely changed my plan to photograph and decided to wait and look for moments.

What made this weekend so special was watching the interaction between participants, coaches, & volunteers.

There were also moments of solitude and reflection.

And moments of joy and celebration.

One of the things we discussed was how children are the most curious and not afraid to talk to individuals that have lost use of their limbs. As adults, we tend to shy away from these individuals. Those that have accepted to live life and experience everything life has to offer are more than willing to talk about themselves and tell their story.

There were some moments that really touched you and still do even months later. I had noticed the "Bumblebee" tattoo from the Transformers movie on Marshall's back. I thought he was a fan. Several weeks later I was having a conversation with Heath, one of my Atlanta Triathlon Club team mates that had also volunteered his time. He got to know Marshall and found out more about the tattoo. In the first movie, towards the end "Bumblebee" is injured and looses the use of his legs. He's tied up onto the back of a tow truck, but despite the loss of his legs, he continues to fight. That sums up Marshall perfectly. How can that not touch you, motivate you and inspire you?

The final day was spent with the participants doing final Q&A as well as some mentoring. It was also a time to say goodbye. Robin, one of my other Atlanta Triathlon Club team mates who volunteered all week and helped organize the event had posted a status on Facebook about Carolyn. I had read it the day before and it said something to the effect of being proud of Carolyn and being inspired by her strength and hard work that week. Robin proceeded to read it to Carolyn and I think we all got emotional at this moment. Even I, who had already read it, couldn't help but tear up hearing Robin speak those words to Carolyn. It was a beautiful moment.

Carolyn lives in the Atlanta area and we ran into her at a century ride a couple weeks ago. She's still training and she's doing her first triathlon in October. Carolyn, I'll be there to cheer you on.

Words really can't express what this training camp was all about and how it affected me. As they say a picture can tell a thousand words, so here's a slideshow of the moments captured.

If you feel that this is a worthy cause, please visit the site, donate your time or money. This organization really does change lives. Mike Lenhart, the founder of this foundation is also a triathlete and he has a vision to help many more individuals throughout the country. Thank you Mike for allowing me to come in  and capture these moments and share in an incredible experience.

If you're looking for a portrait photographer in the Atlanta area, visit my portfolio.

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