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Tethered Together: Lessons in Teamwork, Discipline and Understanding

Andrea Rigobello has been a lifetime athlete, and for years he was a staunch competitor within Italy’s Track & Field scene. When he started his internship with Conduent several years ago, he cut back on competitive events while continuing to focus on athletics through CrossFit and as an avid runner. During one of his sessions at the track, he met a blind athlete that changed his life — and he changed her life too.

During a recent Q&A discussion, Andrea shared this incredible story of how he and Arjola Dedaj became training partners and what they’ve accomplished together.

Q. How did you meet Arjola?

A. One day in 2019, I was at the track and I got to talking with her. I was immediately impressed with her dedication to the sport and the incredible amount of time and focus she had put into her training — and of course, the fact that she was blind only reinforced my admiration because she’s obviously faced challenges that seeing athletes do not.

Q. How did you and Arjola decide to start training together?

A. Arjola needed a new training partner and I love the sport. We immediately felt we were in sync, so she chose me as her athlete guide for the World Championship in Dubai. At first, I thought perhaps we would start with a small, local race or two — but she was going big. I am a competitive person and I was very excited to embrace the challenge of helping her succeed.

Q. What’s it like being a guide for a blind track and field athlete?
A. Arjola is a blind, Paralympic athlete who competes in sprinting and long jump events. In order to run, she needs someone to be her eyes. You run together, with a tether — a short cord that wraps around three fingers. During competitions, I’m her eyes, and she’s the legs. And when we get to the end, and she takes off her mask, I can see the satisfaction on her face. I see that after such hard work, and many trainings, she’s reached her final goal. It’s truly incredible to see how proud she is when she reaches the podium.

Q. You and Arjola recently posted a big win. Tell us about that.

A. Back in 2019, we made it to the semi-finals of the World Championship – that was amazing, but the pandemic put a pause on the competition. Starting back in September, we competed in the Italian Championship and took first place in all three events. And in early June, we took the silver for the 100-meter dash at the European Championship in Poland. If all goes well, our next big competition will be the Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo this August.

Q. What have you learned through your partnership with Arjola?

A. Training for competitions and pushing yourself to the max is never easy, but Arjola faces many challenges that most people don’t even think about. In competition, you have to spend 24 hours per day with your running mate. Through that experience, what impressed me most is how Arjola and others with disabilities face their daily lives without complaining. They don’t want to be called superheroes. They just want to be viewed as normal people.

Arjola is an incredible person – she’s a mother to a 3-year-old child, she’s 39 years old competing against many who are a decade younger, she’s an amazing athlete, and she just happens to be blind. I call her “wonder woman” because that’s what she truly is, and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish next together.