Paratriathletes Chloe and Judith Maccombe from Derry in Northern Ireland finished second and fourth, respectively, at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
The visually-impaired 27-year-old sisters – known as the Tandem Twins – are now targeting the 2024 Paralympics in Paris. Here, the twins tell us how they started in tri, why training together can be frustrating and the importance of guides…
Starting out in triathlon
We were born with a type of albinism, so we’ve grown up visually impaired whereas some people lose their vision later in life – which can be a real struggle. In a way we’re kind of lucky because we’ve never known any different.
We came into tri by accident four years ago. Having initially been para rowers, we were approached by Triathlon Ireland and asked whether we could swim, cycle and run. We went to a training day in Belfast the following month and it went from there.
We could both swim about 50m when we started and didn’t know much about triathlon at all. It was fun getting into structured training, but being clipped-in on the back of a tandem for the first time was terrifying. We still have limited vision, and not being able to steer or brake meant handing over complete control.
Training together can be frustrating because everything turns into a competition! Unless we do our easy runs separately we end up racing. About 90% of our training is done on a spin bike because it can be hard to find enough guides able to take us out on the tandem.
Whoever is up for jumping on the front of a tandem and helping us cycle around Derry is welcome. There are pedestrianised areas we can use, but if our guides are comfortable enough we’ll head out on the roads. It’s up to them though, as we’d never force them to do anything they don’t want to.
The importance of guides in paratriathlon
Our race guides are Catherine Sands [Chloe] and Anne Paul [Judith]. Anne is aged 60, but still so competitive. She’s raced the Commonwealth Games herself and says guiding is her way of giving back. Not everyone realises how important guides are, and we’re constantly telling people their names because they just have GUIDE on the tri-suit.
We’re independent and stubborn, but we’ve learned to trust our guides. Otherwise, you end up fighting against one another and it unbalances the tandem. Plus, the feedback they give pushes us on.
We’ve never been to a race as well supported as the Commonwealth Games. It was amazing to be hit by this wall of sound on the bike, although it also meant we couldn’t hear when turns were coming up!
We don’t think about racing each other, but we won’t let the other one win. Judith is a weaker swimmer but stronger runner [says Chloe]. And Chloe has had slightly better results to date [says Judith]. It’s mixed emotions whenever your twin passes you. First, it’s ‘Yay!’ then, it’s ‘Right, I need to go catch her!’
It would be fantastic to represent Ireland in Paris for the Paralympics. [Currently, Chloe is in a strong position, while Judith needs a couple more international races to be in a favourable position.] We want the headlines to read: ‘Tandem Twins Take Paris’.
Top image L-R: Chloe Maccombe, guide Catherine Sands, guide Anne Paul and Judith Maccombe.