Woman becomes first blind American to compete in 140-mile Ironman World Championship

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By Elizabeth Murray

A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run composes an Ironman triathlon, one of the most difficult sporting events in the world, one that can easily take athletes 17 hours to compete. 

Tina Ament will be one of more than 2,000 athletes competing in the 140-mile Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii on Saturday. With a few Ironman triathlons under her belt already, Ament will make record books before she even starts the championship race: Ament is the first blind American woman to attempt to compete in the Ironman Championships.

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"My life isn't going to be the same anymore," Ament told NBC's Peter Alexander on TODAY. "This is a game-changer. It's not just signing up for another Ironman race, it's huge."

Ament is one of five physically challenged athletes chosen to compete in the Ironman World Championship this year. A federal prosecutor from Alexandria, Viriginia, Ament suffers from a retinal degenerative disease that caused her to lose the majority of her eye sight; today she says she can only distinguish some light and shadows.  

"I'm not going to beat most of them," Ament said of her competition, which includes some of the most physically fit athletes in the world. "But I want to be in their company. I want to swim like one of them, bike like I'm one of them, run like I'm one of them."

Ament wasn't always active, however. She says she ate poorly and didn't exercise until a former boss, a federal judge, inspired her to get healthy. And Ament hasn't stopped since, taking on one Ironman after another.

Her training and competition wouldn't be possible without Ament's trusted aide, Anne Thilgis , who is always by Ament's side when she's swimming, biking and running, serving in essence as Ament's eyes, alerting her to curves, hills and any obstructions that might emerge in a training or competition course.

"She's courageous beyond words," Thilgis said of Ament. "If she decides she's going to do something, she's going to figure a way to do it."

The main takeaway of her competition, Ament said, is to "never give up on your dreams. Even if they seem very hard, or impossible. Whatever it is, and no matter how hard it is, or how hard you have to work to get to it, don't give up."