by Brendan Rowland, Student Public Relations Writer
Though vision degeneration rendered her unable to compete in the sport she loved, Cedarville University alumna Deborah (Sweede) Chucoski '07 from Corning, New York has returned to racing with determination. She aims to represent Team USA in the paratriathlon at the 2024 Paralympic Games in Paris.
At the age of 15, Chucoski was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, a rare macular degenerative disorder. The disease deteriorates central vision, so Chucoski navigates the world through her peripheral vision.
“Things like my depth perception are heavily affected,” Chucoski shared. “I have a hard time seeing details, so reading and facial recognition are difficult.”
During her time at Cedarville as an exercise science major, Chucoski competed on the Yellow Jackets track and field team all four years, though her increasing vision loss led to injuries.
“I only told the people that had to know,” she said. “I wasn’t necessarily ashamed, but I was working through it myself.”
When Chucoski graduated college, she pursued triathlon in the absence of structured team sports until it became dangerous for her to swim or to cycle on the road. After cycling accidents led to nervousness that impaired her ability to race, she stopped competing completely.
“I still loved the individual disciplines, but I had such acute race anxiety that I walked away from the sport entirely,” she said.
Chucoski credits her husband with inspiring her to return to racing as a paratriathlete.
“He came alongside me and said, ‘I know you love this,’ and that constant support to not give up my passion pushed me to consider competing again,” she noted.
The solution for Chucoski was to find a guide to complete the race alongside her. When racing, she is attached to her guide, Ericka Hachmeister, by a tether during the swim, by a rope during the run, and by a tandem bicycle during the cycling portion.
“Ericka is the conduit for my success,” Chucoski explained. “She takes away the need to have vision, and she allows me to succeed.”
Chucoski has been able to use her story to share her faith with paratriathlete teams from around the world and with the media. “The encouraging conversations I’ve been able to have give me more confidence that God has brought me to this point, and there’s no shame in proclaiming that.”
Although she’s able to compete at an elite level, Chucoski doesn’t minimize the difficulties her vision loss poses for everyday life. After falling down the stairs, she recently obtained a service dog from the Guide Dog Foundation. Winter is challenging for her, as icy sidewalks are dangerous to navigate.
Now, her sights are set on representing Team USA in the 2024 Paralympic Games. “I wanted to be in the military and was upset about not being able to. I’m so proud to be representing my country, especially with the team of people who’ve got my back.”
Her extensive training relies on a network of coaches and community, including her guide, Hachmeister. Chucoski works out twice a day, totaling approximately three hours each day spent on any combination of swimming, running, cycling or strength training. She rests every 14th day.
She credits her trainers, particularly her guide, with her success. “I’m competing on an international level with the best paratriathletes in the world, and it’s completely due to the hand of God putting these people in my life.”
“Everything in my life has prepared me for the path I’m on right now – marrying my husband, having a positive experience competing in high school and college, buying a service dog,” Chucoski said.
Located in southwest Ohio, Cedarville University is an accredited, Christ-centered, Baptist institution with an enrollment of 5,082 undergraduate, graduate, and dual enrolled high school students in more than 175 areas of study. Founded in 1887, Cedarville is one of the largest private universities in Ohio, recognized nationally for its authentic Christian community, rigorous academic programs including its Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science, high graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings, and the #4 national ranking by the Wall Street Journal for student engagement. For more information about the University, visit cedarville.edu.