I don’t know about you but an afternoon rain shower is sometimes enough to derail my evening workout. But not Liz Baker. Liz Baker takes excuses and basically eats them for breakfast.
A physical therapist, wife, and mother of two, Liz is also a fierce competitor, triathlete and Paralympics hopeful who pursues her goals with tenacity despite being legally blind.
Diagnosed at age 16 with Stargart’s disease, which causes eyesight to deteriorate over time, her story is one of continued commitment to push perceived boundaries and overcome adversity.
“After I was diagnosed, life seemed to go on as usual until my freshman year of college when my eyesight changed drastically and I had to start learning by listening,” Liz explained. “It was also a hard time because as things changed I had to tell more people and I didn’t want anyone to count me out because they thought I couldn’t do something; I wanted to make those decisions.”
But it was during that hard transition in college when Liz strengthened her inherent resolve to press on despite challenges. “I was frustrated but decided if I couldn’t control the disease, I would control my response,” she said. “I committed then to remain positive and never let fear keep me from pursuing my goals.”
Fast forward to present day and you’ll find she’s following through on that commitment.
A lover of exercise and sport, Liz had run dozens of races and even marathons before her first Ironman triathlon in September 2014, something she’d set her mind to do by age 40. The plan was to finish alongside her husband, Unum’s Brian Baker. But due to a number of formalities, she was required to instead race tandem with a guide for the first time. It was after that race when she set a new goal: qualify for the 2016 Paralympic Games.
“We were disappointed to change our plans for the Ironman, but it introduced me to competing in a different way,” she said. “When someone came up to me after and said my time was good enough to compete at a higher level, I didn’t think it was possible. But with some encouragement from Brian I decided to try.”
Liz added hours of training to her already busy schedule and less than two years later, with support from guides Sara Gibson and Helen Phipps who run and swim tethered to her and pilot her tandem bike, she’s competed worldwide. Placing first in her division in five of the seven events she’s been to within the past year, a win at the CAMTRI Paratriathlon American Championships in Sarasota in March earned her a provisional spot on Team USA for the Paralympics. In June, it became official. Liz was named to the first-ever U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team and will compete in Rio Sept. 11, going from a crushed college student to racing on the world’s largest stage.
In the midst of all her impressive accomplishments, though, Liz remains humble, always pointing back to what inspires and keeps her motivated in the day-to-day – her family.
“I couldn’t do it without help and support from Brian and my kids,” she said. “I don’t ever want Eliza or Andrew to not do something because they’re afraid, so that keeps me going even when fear creeps in at times.”
Liz said she hopes her accomplishments will inspire others, disability or not, to take risks and do whatever it is they aspire to.
“Your goal doesn’t have to be to go to the Olympics or run a triathlon,” she said, “but whatever you want to do, know there are people who can help. Seek them out. Get to know them. Then just go for it. I’m so glad I did.”