Today I acted as a guide runner for a blind man, for the first time.
I was introduced to the man by Achilles Canada, you can read about that organisation here.
I have been feeling for some time that I wanted there to be more to my running than just me trying to run fast or far. So when I heard about this opportunity it sounded perfect.
The guy who I was to be guiding, ‘G’, lives about 4km from me so it was an easy jog to his house and from there we dropped down onto a paved trail through woods, beside a river. G is near totally blind so we ran connected by a strap, which we both held in our hands, me in my left, he in his right.
For me it was immediately a very different running experience. There were the practical issues, like, my job was to notice every possible obstacle and give a countdown as we approached it, so that G could raise his feet a little so as to not trip over. So it was a case of, see a bump or hole up ahead of us and say at the right time, ‘ok, 3, 2, 1′ and on ‘1’ G knew to raise his foot.
Also, as we approached a busy road, or group of people, I’d nudge or pull G one way or another so as to stay safe.
I noticed that G liked to hug the area at the side of the path right next to the grass, even if we had the whole path to run on. I asked him if his other senses compensated for his lack of sight and he said yes, especially his hearing. This made me think of the early native explorers of the Pacific, who would set out on rafts into a seemingly empty ocean. Others from tribes less used to the ocean thought them crazy to set off without knowing if there was dry land within a day or two’s sailing time. But the native explorers could read the waves, using their senses. When the wind was behind them and a small wave came towards them, they knew it meant only one thing, that the wave had bounced off dry land somewhere over the horizon and been pushed back. The wave was often so small as to only be felt if one put ones cheek to the ocean’s flat surface. Yet, by using touch, smell, hearing and sight they felt at home in that vast body of water. The size of the near imperceptible wave could tell them just how long it might take to sail to the lands that they could not yet see.
And as G hugged the space near the grass verge I felt he was perhaps doing the same thing, listening to the sounds of his footsteps bouncing off the minute mound of grass, giving him an idea of his location on the path, and the way forward.
We spoke of his home in central Europe, which he’d left whilst it was still toiling under Communism, and Tokai wine – and that was a thrill for me because few things give me as much pleasure as the grapes from Balaton region – and of course sports and our hopes for 2016. When I learn to guide better we’ll go faster and not be able to speak so much as we’ll be out of breath but today was all about me learning to see for somebody else, and us both learning a little bit about each other.
After 10km I left G back at his apartment, full of admiration for him for so many reasons, and ran back to my apartment with a spring and more than a few tears. It doesn’t take much to make me cry nowadays – some might call that being an emotional wreck whilst I say it’s quite the opposite and being in touch with ones emotions to a very fine degree – and even a ‘V’ of geese flying over a fresh smelling Lake Ontario can get me watery eyed so you can imagine how I was, after this powerful experience. Seeing the land anew with the aid of a blind man, doing something nice for somebody else, just being outside on such a fine day.
If you think you’d like to be a running guide, or a guide for other sports (G also cycles well and takes part in Triathlons), do think about contacting Achilles Canada and asking to be put in touch with people who may need your company.