Tej Thaker

Eyes on Team GB for triathlon enthusiast

The challenge of completing a triathlon multiplies if you can only see clearly when using glasses or contact lenses. This prompted a London triathlete and coach to have the eye surgery he had considered for many years.

For Tej Thaker, 31, training and competing in triathlons has become a big passion and even a new business initiative.

He is so dedicated to the sport which he only began eight years ago – despite no background at all in swimming, cycling or running – that he trains 8-10 times a week, has become a triathlon coach and is dedicated to helping people try it out for the first time.  However one issue was holding him back – his sight.

Tej had been dependent on glasses for correcting his poor vision since the age of 10, which he found frustrating from many points of view. He explains:

“Within triathlon, there are three disciplines (four if you include the transition), and each has its own challenges. Poor sight and using glasses or contact lenses can add an element of difficulty or inconvenience.

“In training I always used to swim without prescription goggles or contacts which meant I couldn’t see much at all, just the black line to follow at the bottom of the pool.  Once at an Ironman race in Spain however, bearing in mind how much effort we put in to train for these races, I got kicked in the face in the first kilometre of the 4km swim and my contact lens fell out. I could hardly see out of one eye, in the middle of the sea.

“Other times when I’ve been cycling at speed in the wind, my contacts have come out despite wearing sunglasses.  When running in the rain my glasses get steamed up or wet.  I’m now trying to drill down on my times and being able to see without issue is very helpful!”

Tej enjoyed playing hockey throughout school and university and set himself some big goals in the sport. However, an injury stopped that and when he saw an advert for The London Triathlon he suggested it to his brother, and together they trained – going from only being able to swim one lap in the pool to completing 400 metres.

Tej continued training and progressing to improve his times. He has since raced around the world at all distances from super sprint to the renowned Ironman. His ambition is to qualify for Team GB Sprint Distance.

Tej, who works in finance and has a science background, used this influence to make a very informed decision on the eye procedure and where to have the operation. He reviewed consultant success rates, which he said gave him the confidence to go ahead with Mr. Alex Shortt, consultant eye surgeon at Optegra Eye Hospital Central London.

Mr Shortt from Optegra says: “Tej is enthusiastic about triathlon, I could feel his frustration at his performance being affected by his vision.  There are many different vision correction treatments available these days and following a thorough examination I recommended he have LASIK laser eye surgery.

“This works by using a laser to carefully re-shape the front window of the eye – the cornea – to adjust the eyes’ focusing power.  Tej had quite a high prescription, but we have been able to treat that so he can now enjoy his sport and his coaching without glasses or contacts. He is so enthusiastic about triathlons, he is even trying to get me to have a go!”

Tej, who says he always thinks about the numbers, even calculated how much time and money he would spend buying glasses and contacts and going to the opticians; he realized the surgery made sense financially over a 15 year period.

He is delighted with the result and says: “For triathlon, this is revolutionary! Each of the three different sports were negatively affected by my sight and reliance on glasses or contact lenses…this operation has solved the problem once and for all!  The recovery was super quick, though I could not swim for two weeks, so serious athletes may want to think about timings so it does not affect their training and lead up to important races.”

Tej, from Balham, has also made a small business out of his passion for triathlons, having qualified as a Level 1 coach, and currently finishing his level 2 course. He coaches people locally in South London and is keen to encourage first timers – they vary from cycling enthusiasts with lots of experience, to a 65 year old who has never swum before! The rewards of doing a triathlon are transferable in life. He says the key is to face a challenge, overcome a fear and earn a great sense of achievement.

He is also preparing new triathletes, in partnership with BTF, for a race set up by Human Race and is eager to encourage more people from all backgrounds to get involved in this race; Bananaman Triathlon at Dorney Lake, Windsor on 29th June 2019.

Optegra Eye Health Care, whose hospitals include Central London, North London and Guildford, is a specialist provider of ophthalmic services in the UK, Czech Republic and Poland. It operates 21 eye hospitals and clinics, bringing together leading edge research, medical expertise and state-of-the-art surgical equipment.  Its top ophthalmic surgeons are renowned for their areas of expertise, offering excellent clinical outcomes.

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