Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Running the Risk by Shelley Ann Morris

When I was growing up, there were very few opportunities for visually-impaired children to become involved in sports and be active like sighted children.  While my parents were determined to raise me as an active, healthy girl, their efforts were thwarted each time they wanted to register me in various sports or recreation programs, “It’s too dangerous.”  “She might get hurt.”  “Our insurance doesn’t cover blind children.”  All this backward thinking resulted in some difficulty, but they persisted and I participated in swimming, skiing and horseback riding—albeit with in ‘special’ programs for kids with disabilities. 

Thankfully, we have come a long way since then.  Slowly, the sighted world realized that many activities could be adapted to meet the needs of blind participants.  In the last 20 years, I have taken part in group fitness programs, Spinning classes, strength training programs and yoga sessions for all.  A brief discussion and a collaborative approach with fitness instructors has taken me off the sidelines, and put me at the front of the class, near the instructor, working out alongside my peers.  True, there were always risks involved, but with the right accommodations, those risks could be mitigated. 

A sisterly dare lead to a lifestyle change in 1994 when I took my first tentative steps up the CN Tower’s 1,776 step staircase as part of annual Stair Climbing  events in aid of different charities. In April 2012 I completed my 17th trek, finishing the climb in under 25 minutes.  With some help from family and friends on and off the crowded staircase, I climb right along with those who are able to see.

In 2008, with some encouragement and help from family members, I began running.  With the assistance of a sighted guide—usually a friend or relative—I started to train for and participate in road races throughout Ottawa.  The experience was life-changing—the thundering sound of hundreds of running shoes hitting pavement, the cheers and music from the spectators, hearing our names being announced and pulsating music guiding us to the finish line—all of them woven together to make my race experience just as rich as for those who can see. 

I was so inspired at having been part of the action.  In 2010, I decided to take on a new challenge—triathlon.  I survived my first season, conquering not only the three sports, but also learning all about teamwork and the importance of the crucial partnership between guide and athlete.  Racing with the assistance of sighted guides involves one brain, two bodies.  Guides and athletes must work together. They must practice before race day as each blind athlete has different needs. Each works very hard to establish the verbal cues and signals well in advance of stepping on to a busy race course.  Physical and mental preparation is a must for all athletes, and is especially important for  blind and visually-impaired athletes and guides. It is something that we take seriously.  

Trust must be established. As a blind athlete it takes some guts and a lot of faith to do a sport with your eyes closed.  Conversely, guides must work in sync with their athletes so that the partnership works well, and that everyone is prepared for any eventuality.

Despite all the physical and mental preparation, anything can happen.  Whether it is during competition itself or during a practice run, no-one is spared from accident or injury. This can occur anywhere and at any time.  We have all had to sign waivers before we participate in an athletic event.  We have all seen those programs on the sports networks, showcasing athletes’ spills, falls and mishaps.  Nowadays there is more of an emphasis on safety equipment and modifying the rules to increase safety in sports. 

We should not allow fear to keep blind athletes relegated to the bleachers or to send us back to a place where the best we could hope for is to be part of the cheering section.  We have come a long way to make sure that those with limited vision or no sight at all can take their rightful place in the water and on land.  It would be a shame to go backward, not when so much progress has been made. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tamarack Homes Ottawa Race Weekend - Show Your "Duty of Care"

Won with One and Achilles Ottawa have joined forces to enter the largest field of Blind/Visually Impaired athletes, guides and sighted supporters into the Tamarack Homes Ottawa Race Weekend!

We have joined together to celebrate the abilities of B/VI athletes and the incredible importance of sighted guides. This year, for the first time in the history of this prestigious race, a Blind/Visually Impaired category has been added to the 10km race and we want to fill it up!

Take the challenge to join our team and run tethered to show your support and solidarity for the rights of ALL B/VI athletes in Canada. VI or sighted, we'll provide you with a tether and a great reason to join our team - equality in sport and life! Need a running partner? No problem - just let us know and we'll match you up. It's what we do!

Click HERE to join our team and be part of this life changing run. Use our charity code of OTTAWA2012VI on the Events Online registration page. We will be including an opportunity to help us raise funds to support Jon and Jason Dunkerley's defense fund - stay tuned for more details on how you can help!

Join us and show your "Duty of Care"!

**Note - sighted guides racing with a BVI athlete are not required to pay a registration fee. Please only complete the first part of the application above.

**The B/VI category is only available in the 10km race, but we will also be representing in all distances. If you are already registered to run and would like to join our team, please fill out the first part of the above form only.  

**On the Events Online registration page, use the charity code OTTAWA2012VI to complete the process.

For more information contact us at

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Eye on You Learning Series 2012

Won with One is proud to host this dynamic learning series; taking place over six weeks and focusing on proactive solutions and educational resources by leaders in the blind/visually impaired community in Canada. All proceeds from this series will go to assist Won with One’s charitable program for blind and visually impaired triathletes.

Cost: $15 per workshop OR $75 for the series (6)
Location: Ottawa City Hall
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30pm

To register for the complete series (6) click here.
To register for individual workshops click here.

Workshop Topics:

#1 - From the Couch to Well-being

Thursday, February 2nd
Ottawa City Hall, Honeywell Room
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

To register for this workshop click here.
**Please note that registration for this event is capped at 30 participants.**

Fitness expert, Wendall Hughes has designed an innovative and fully accessible exercise program for B/VI persons introducing them to simple exercise routines that can be done in the home. This workshop will be focused on providing resources and information to persons who are new to living active lifestyles, with tips, tools and support that will aid in developing healthier lifestyles.

To register for the complete series (6) click here.

#2 - Your Life. Your Voice.

Thursday, February 9th
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Ottawa City Hall, Colonel By Room

To register for this workshop click here.
**Please note that registration for this event is capped at 30 participants.

Leaders in Human Rights in Canada will present in this exciting workshop on self-advocacy. Focusing on how to make your voice heard, understanding your rights and working within challenging systems. This topic will be directly focused on providing the B/VI community with resources, ideas and an understanding of the laws in Canada which are designed to protect the rights of all persons living with disabilities.

To register for the complete series (6) click here.

#3 - Equality in Employment

Thursday, February 16th
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Ottawa City Hall, Honeywell Room

To register for this workshop click here.
**Please note that registration for this event is capped at 30 participants.

This dynamic round table discussion will focus on resume writing tips, interview preparation, how to turn a volunteer role into a permanent position, as well as overcoming barriers which stand in the way of employment as a B/VI person. With a panel of knowledgeable and experienced leaders in employment, this topic will aid in taking the right steps in your career search.

To register for the complete series (6) click here.

#4 - Your Financial Future 101

Thursday, February 23rd
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Ottawa City Hall, Colonel By Room

To register click here.
**Please note that registration for this event is capped at 30 participants.

Ryan Ricci, an Investment Fund Advisor with Desjardins Financial Security Investments Inc., will assist with his wealth of knowledge on how to prepare for your financial future with a workshop that has been designed for the blind/visually impaired community. Dealing with financial preparations from beginning to end, RDSP contributions and the importance of preparing for your tomorrow; this topic will bring real answers to real questions about financial security and independence.

To register for the complete series (6) click here.

#5 - The 20/200 Project

Thursday, March 1st
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Ottawa City Hall

To register click here.
***Please note that registration for this event is capped at 12 participants.

From accessible mobile technology to independence; Co-Founders of The 20/200 Project, Chris Maley and Jan Ditchfield, will lead a workshop exploring how accessible mobile technology will lead to independence. With hands-on applications and teaching aids, this powerful and innovative workshop will provide participants with an understanding of the power of mobile devices and how they can be used in work, life and play.

To register for the complete series (6) click here.

#6 - From the Tether to the T-Zone

Thursday, March 8th
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Ottawa City Hall

To register for this workshop click here.
**Please note that registration for this event is capped at 30 participants.

Rick Hellard of Zone3sports and Jan Ditchfield, Executive Director of Won with One, will host this hands-on learning opportunity for guides and race directors. Covering everything from Guiding 101 practices to assisting race directors in making their events blind friendly, this workshop will focus on educating the sighted community on accessibility needs and equality for B/VI athletes on and off the race course.

To register for the complete series (6) click here

We look froward to having you join us and for more information, please email us at 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Peterborough Triathlon Race Report from Rick Hellard

Thanks for this Rick!

Last weekend, I had another new experience in the world of triathlon. It was at the Peterborough Half Ironman: I wrapped two things that I had done before together and added a third to make a final product. 

More specifically, I have guided visually impaired athletes in running and in cycling (on a tandem) to a certain degree of success. This past weekend, I added swimming to that list and came out with a full triathlon. 

Except for the fact the guy I was guiding is a better swimmer than I am, and I felt bad for holding him up, it went very well. Yes, he had to slow up for me in the swim, but once on the tandem, we were inseparable until the run, and then it was every man for himself—he was good on the downhills, I was good on the uphills and cresting. We both wanted water more often than it was available. It was quite a symbiotic relationship. 

I was fortunate to guide Aaron Scheidies from the US. Aaron is the current World Champion and record holder at both the 70.3 and Olympic Distance triathlons (4:09 and 1:57). On the right day, he could be my equal or better than me, so as far as I was concerned, the race was not only between us and them full sighted folks, it was simply between us and that would drive us to an even faster time for the day. In the days before our first meeting, I worked hard at getting a hate on for him. That lasted until we met: he’s a super nice guy with only good things to say about everything, and he’s talented and benevolent. He was hard to not like, but I tried anyway, in total futility. Eventually, I gave in and admitted to myself that I really did like him. 

We were borrowing a tandem from Won with One, the Canada wide triathlon team for visually impaired athletes. We had a choice of several bikes. We took bike 1 out for a ride in the morning then went for a short run to test out that aspect of the race. We agreed that a different bike would be better, so later that day, we swapped out some parts on bike 2 and got it quite close—getting a bike to fit both a pilot with short legs and stoker with long legs perfectly is not very easy. My saddle was still about 1cm too high and could not go lower. I’d have to live with it. 

After 10k on the better bike, we felt reasonably confident we could ride hard and not cripple ourselves. We would leave the swim until race day. Aaron said it was easy, and I trusted him. 

Race morning, we met up at the hotel then rode over to the race start, got set up, body marked and wetsuited up. We wrapped the tether around our waists then went for a test swim—he swimming to my right and breathing to his left looking directly at me. The tether was long enough that it dragged 50cm behind us and out of the way of our hands and feet. If it ever became taught, it meant someone was headed in the wrong direction. 

Aaron’s goggles were leaking, so with 6min to the start, we ran from the beach to the Dornellas tent and bought on credit a pair of Sable goggles. He tried them on and said they’d be good. We ran back to the beach, swam 20 sec and discussed things. 

And then we realized were not in the start area and had to boogie over to the line, arriving with just 5sec to spare. 

Off we went, leading the para-triathlete wave of 5 teams and the rest of the race field that was to leave 5min later. The swim was amazingly smooth with no one in the way, and very calm water. Aaron swam a perfectly straight line, or I did and he held his distance to my right perfectly. At the end of the first lap, we stood, ran out of the water and across the beach then dove back in. While running along the beach, he says to me “do you have another gear for the second lap?” I replied quite emphatically “No!!” 

Our second lap was equally smooth and we did indeed catch a few of the stragglers from the main wave. We stayed clear and never had a problem with any of them getting between us. 

We touched shore, ran to the t-zone and had a remarkably fast transition—I took care of myself, stood up and he was already waiting for me. 

We ran out, mounted our bike and were gone. I could feel the strength and power coming from the back of the bike and feared it was too hard, too soon, but also figured he knew what he was doing. We hammered away on the brutally hilly ride behind the lead vehicle to the turn around, checking our split and thinking to myself—that’s too fast, but the damage was done. I also noted the time so we could see how far back the next riders would be. We rode, and rode and rode until at 3:15 had passed, the first solo rider went by. I knew they had outswum us by about 4min because they were in the t-zone when we were leaving (my fault for being the anchor on the team) and we had a 5min head start on them. At this point in the ride, then, we were 6:30 up the road with an actual 1:30 lead on them, so we had really put some time on them. 

The return trip was hard—nowhere near as much fun as the ride out—it was hot, hot and windy, windy. I think I mentioned the brutally hilly part, right? It did not get any better. 

One thing we did not practice the day before was the bottle exchange but when we mercifully came up on the aid station, I slowed to about 15kph and we were both able to snag a much needed bottle of agua. Those of you that know me also know I do not go through two bottles of fluid very often. I was through both mine at 60k into this ride. Can I say it was hot again? 

We rode onward, trying to take advantage of the downhills and flat sections, since we were losing much more time on the uphills than we did on the way out. 

All along the route, there was lots of cheering and great sportsmanship. It was appreciated and our thanks to everyone who yelled. Finally, we finished the ride, went through transition, again with Aaron beating me, and off we went on the run. Someone has to be the slowpoke (and put the bike away). 

The first 4k is a bit convoluted on grass, trail, pathway and bi-directional traffic. Fortunately, being the race leaders, we had a lead mountain biker to clear the way. He did a great job, and the red shirt he was wearing was visible to Aaron, as long as we kept him within 15m. So we did. 

I mentioned Aaron swims perfectly straight. He also runs that way. It was actually very easy to be ticking off 4:30/km on broken and awkward terrain since I really only had to worry about roots and low hanging branches, of which there were not many. 

At the 2k turnaround we were able to get a time check on the people chasing us. We saw we had over 8min to second, and 12 to third place. If we held it together, we could be first across the line. That was our new goal. And more modestly, not to blow up and walk. 

Once through the first 4k, we hit the road and were able to get into a good rhythm, though this part of the run course in Peterborough has endless hills and zero shade to offer some respite. This particular section doubles as the first and last 5k of the bike ride, so we had lots of people still coming in on the bike cheering us on. That was motivating. At one point, someone yelled at me “don’t you ever get tired of being at the front of a race??” (hint: the short answer is “no.” ) 

We gradually slowed our pace due to the heat, but Aaron was a real competitor and kept trying to push through it. I am not sure I was very motivating, but I was his constant companion and was not going to let him slow down too much until the aid stations. I half stepped him as my way of encouragement. We both pushed on over the hills and under the heat to the turnaround at 12.5k. I checked our time to get a split on the chase pack, but did not need it—Glenn Flint was in sight, less than 2:30 behind. I raced head to head against Glenn in 1999 until 5k into the run when I finally dropped him, only to be passed by Jeff Beech at 15k, but that’s for another race report. The next runner chasing looked like he was flying. He was definitely gaining on Glenn. 

Aaron and I soldiered on trying to delay the inevitable pass, and we made it to 15k before it happened, but it was not Glenn. It was eventual winner Andrew Imrie. Within seconds and minutes, he was out of our sight and headed for home. Not long after that, Glenn’s footsteps could be heard close behind, but not gaining very quickly. He sat behind us for a little while to regain some composure, and then went by. There was no answer in our legs to his pass, just enough energy to keep going. Glenn did not get away by much, and maybe I could have pushed Aaron harder, but with 4k to go, I thought it more wise to hold steady than to risk blowing everything. 
We ran on the edge of comfortably until 20k where Aaron decided then was the time to wind things up for the big finish. Unfortunately, though physically able, my mind was not in the mood. I just wanted to maintain. Nevertheless, it was his race, so off we went. It actually felt better to run faster and stretch things out. We waved at the crowd, zigged and zagged our way to the finish line to a great deal of applause. We were 3rd across the line and ended up with the 4th fastest time of the day at 4:27. 

Aaron and I hugged, shook hands and congratulated each other on a fine job. Jan Ditchfield from Won with One was glowing with pride at our success. She had worked very hard to coordinate 13 teams racing in the Peterborough half Ironman and sprint triathlons and all the teams were doing well, with Aaron really adding some street cred. 

For me, this was a great experience and a real eye opener to the quality of athlete that’s out there. Aaron is a long way in front of the next guy, who happens to be Ryan van Praet from Canada (and formerly Ottawa) but his hope is to have more competition pushing him, not to dominate the way he does. To me, that’s a real competitor—he lives for the battle on race day and is friends before and after. That’s the way it should be. 

Congratulations to all the teams who participated in Peterborough last weekend. You all performed very well and inspired a lot of people to reach for new goals. 

Hopefully, there will be more opportunities for Aaron and the other visually impaired athletes to strut their stuff in the future. 
Thanks to the Subaru Triathlon Series, Won with One, C Different (US counterpart to Won with One) and OAT for making this happen. 


Peterborough Triathlon Race Report from Shelley Ann

Check out this great race report from Shelley!

Thanks Team!

One short year ago, I wrote a goal on a piece of paper.  “In 2011, I will do my first Sprint Distance Triathlon.”  On Sunday, July 10, this dream was realized.

The first step to reaching that goal was to be invited to join the Won with One triathlon team. This group is made up of some amazing people.  Our manager Jan Ditchfield works tirelessly to make sure that we can participate in triathlons all over North America—not an easy feat as there are numerous logistical details, creating athlete-guide pairs and having to constantly search for funding sources and sponsorships.  Jan is a true miracle worker.  Our coach, Cathy Rober provides us with all kinds of practical ideas both on a team and an individual level.  A team of dedicated guides are the bridge that takes us from sitting on the sidelines to full participation.  There are presently thirteen athletes scattered all over Canada, each with an impressive story to tell.  Some were born with their visual impairment while for others this was acquired.  Some triathletes are in the elite category while others, like me, are in the developmental stream. 

As a ‘newbie’ I learned from many experienced triathletes—everyone was quick to share their advice—everything from the best way to get into a wetsuit to techniques for running and swimming with a tether.  You will never see a more positive, uplifting bunch than this crew—pity has no place on our team. 

The morning of our race dawned sunny and warm.  I was fortunate as I had my Dad and sister Colleen staying with me.  Both have run marathons and know what it takes physically and mentally to compete.  I was raised to believe that lack of sight did not equal lack of physical ability.

I fuelled up on a little fruit, egg sandwiches, an electrolyte drink, a small but necessary amount of caffeine and yes, water.  During a quiet moment I listened to a couple of songs on my iPod.  Natalie Merchant’s “Wonder” and That 1 Guy’s “Stone’s Throw” gave me the musical inspiration I needed.  I was feeling pretty good—I’d hydrated slowly the day before.  I took Cathy’s advice and ate a  dinner of fish, rice and veggies and then slept well .  The night before that, I’d foregone a chance to go to the Ottawa Bluesfest.   You have to make sacrifices. 

On race day, the hotel lobby looked like a bike shop.  Athletes, guides and others raced around, dealing with last-minute bike problems.  I caught up to my guide, Robyn Hardage—a phenomenal athlete who has as part of an impressive resume completed a Boston marathon and is no well on her way to an Ironman in Lake Placid . We were in high spirits as athletes and guides all kidded each other about the upcoming events.  Some of us would participate in the sprint distance while others were gunning for the half-iron. 

We walked to Beavermede park pretty much en masse; guides and athletes with big tandem bikes in tow.  My friend George Hajecek was guiding for the first time.  His athlete, Terry Gardner was an experienced pro.  We didn’t know it at the time, but they would come in first in our category.  Robyn and I had done the Try-a-tri together so I was feeling  very confident.  Another athlete from BC, Chris Zonruiter was as new as I was.  When we got to the park, music pumped out of the PA system along with constant announcements about Won With One.

For some strange reason, the transition area does something to my ability to organize myself.  I can’t seem to think strategically and need some help putting my gear in order and knowing what I have to do in any kind of a sequence—I attribute it to nerves as transition is a big part of this sport.  It will come.  I’m just glad that my guide is there to help me to get my act together.

It was time to tug on the wetsuits—still an ordeal for me.  Thankfully Robyn was able to help me. I look like I’m doing the hokey-pokey and of course this resulted in hoots of laughter from my teammates.  Before I knew it, a horn blared and it was time to get into Lake Beavermede.  As we started our 750-metre swim, I was so overjoyed to see my fellow teammates out there with me! We were part of the para wave and so were able to start five minutes sooner.  The tethered swim wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought it would be.  Robyn was able to keep me on course both physically and mentally—ever try swimming with someone who is both visually-impaired and has ADD?  I was scared of being kicked or pushed—the only thing that happened was that someone grabbed my leg in one of the turns, using me like a pole to help him/herself to negotiate that turn. 

The swim complete, we scampered out of the water like seals and ran to the transition area, trying to pull off the constrictive wetsuits along the way.  Lucky for me, Robyn was able to help me get out of mine—it was like getting a kid out of a snowsuit! 

Helmets, jerseys, shorts and glasses on, we mounted our trusty steeds and were headed for the roadway.  As we rode, we got and gave lots of shout-outs of encouragement to those  nearby.  Although I’d tied my shoes in double knots, a shoelace got caught in a pedal and we had to stop for an adjustment—that was close—lesson learned—ALWAYS TUCK IN YOUR LACES!!!  A kilometer or two later, a flying thing flew into my ear and bit me—I squashed the perpetrator and kept going.  For the first time ever, I made a turn on a tandem bike!  Robyn’s cues were excellent—“push off”  “Railroad track”  “Bump” “Change gears”  “Coast” and “Brake” were all cues that helped. “Power” was our word for me to pedal harder to climb a hill.  It’s times like these when you realize that this sport is all about one brain, two bodies.

We dismounted our bikes and got ready to run.  I decided to ‘dog it’ a little on the 5K, not sure how I would hold up at the end.  Those track workouts with Geordie McConnell and brick workouts with Tara Fairhead with the Ottawa Triathlon Club’s Triathlon Training Program really helped.  Short, quick steps got me there.  Robyn had to endure my expletives when we came to the last kilometer—I hate “corkscrew” endings—I like a nice, straight finish with a beeline to the finish line.  This was not how this course was laid out.  Just when we thought we were in the home stretch, the course took a few more turns and twists to give us a full 5K—a real psychological teaser.

At last the race was run.  I couldn’t believe that I had done my first sprint distance triathlon in under two hours!  I was officially a triathlete!!! 

Robyn’s partner Mike and my sister Colleen and Jan snapped all kind of pictures.  There were many high fives and sweaty hugs as my teammates and I all congratulated each other.  It turns out that three of us had placed in the paratriathlete stream in the sprint distance.

Being part of Won With One has helped to build my confidence in myself I’m doing things now that I never dreamed were possible.  As I approach my fiftieth birthday I know that there are a lot more things to look forward to.  Through this team I have grown fitter, faster, stronger and  have really come into my own.  It is said that if you are not living life on the edge, you are taking up too much space.  Now that I have one event under my (race) belt, I am looking forward to the next.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Robbie and Chris Take on Boston

Here's a great "Believe and Achieve." article written by Won with One guide, Chris Barnes about his experience with Robbie in the Boston Marathon that was published originally in the USA. Thanks for sharing, Chris!

Racer number 21585

     The Boston Marathon, the oldest marathon ran and the most prestigious race.  All the top athletes from around the world qualified, trained, and have now completed the 115th running of the Boston Marathon.  

     Robbie Burt, an athlete you did not see on the podium, not in the top 1,000, but one of the most inspirational people and runners at the 2011 Boston Marathon.  I know this because I was with Robbie every step of the way.  Robbie is a visually impaired runner/ triathlete from Canada whom I had the privilege of guiding through the 26.2 miles and ending the race with him getting his qualifying time for the 2012 Boston Marathon. 

            Robbie and I met a year ago in New York City at the New York City Triathlon where I was guiding another Canadian for the triathlon.  It was in NYC where we quickly became friends, sharing our love for tattoo's and running; we stayed in contact over the year leading up to Boston.  We also have one more thing in common; we are both blind.  Robbie is blind in both eyes with only a small portion of vision in his right eye.  At the age of 15 I went blind in my left eye due to a disease called Coats Disease.  I found out about an organization that guides blind athletes from Scott Johnson and quickly contacted them.  I started guiding with CDifferent and in New York City I met the director of the Canadian organization for visually impaired athletes, called Won with One, which Robbie races with.  I have fallen in love with guiding and for me, it's more rewarding finishing a race with a visually impaired athlete than any race I did on my own.   

     Robbie contacted me in late 2010 and asked me if I would guide him in Boston.  He told me that I did not have to qualify on my own; all I needed to do was come run the race.  Well, being the competitive person that I am I entered the Richmond Marathon to try to qualify, so I knew that on race day, I had paid my dues to get to that starting line, just like everyone else.  I qualified with a 2:58 and thus, earning the Boston guiding job.  

     After months and months of talking, the Boston weekend was here.  We got together on Saturday and perfected our running and instantly we were good to go.  We knew that we trusted each other and we knew everything about each other so the race was ready to be run.  

            Race morning the butterflies were flying in full force.  With 27,000 people running, this was going to put my guiding to the test.  Having to weave and pass people, jumping in front of people to get water for Robbie, and then a quick drink for me, not to mention the hills and the crowds that we would soon learn helped us through the race.  

     Okay, let me paint a picture for you so you know in your head how we do what we do before the race starts.  Robbie and I are connected by a tether, or rope, around his right wrist and my left wrist.  He does not use a cane when he runs, but relies on my voice.  He hears what I say and only knows what is on the road by what I tell him.  I am talking to him the entire race; the pace, distance, time, describing the hills, flats, downhill’s, holes in the road, curves, water stops, food stops, porter potties, and yes, what the crowds are yelling at.  Oh yea, one very important side note, Robbie is Canadian, where there they do not use miles, feet, yards, they use kilometers and meters.  So where I would normally say we have 13 miles left, I would have to convert it to 21 kilometers left.  So the entire race was a math class that I am pretty sure I got a B- in.  Robbie would gladly correct me and say that hill was WAY longer than 100 meters.  Looks like I need to do some more practice on that.  Okay now to the race... 

     The time was 10:38, we had 2 minutes to get to our corral for the start.  Making it just in time, the gun went off and everyone started slowly running.  Robbie was ready to go.  He told me we had to pick it up from the start.  This might sound easy to an individual runner, but weaving through a crowd with another person is not that easy.  We quickly found some helpful phrases that would help us through the entire race.  One being shoulder left: this translated to grab my left shoulder, we are moving to get water or food.  Another key phrase that stuck with us the entire race was Center Back: translating to put your hand in the center of my back and get directly behind me, we are going through close areas to pass and move ahead.  One more key phrase that we used was squeeze.  This one translates to exactly what it sounds like; we would squeeze together if the hole was big enough to get through without us going single file.

     The first 13.1 miles went great.  We were holding a steady pace, with the help of the land being mostly downhill and the wind blowing 20 mph at our backs.  I did have to stop 7 miles into the race and do some repair work to my shoe situation but a quick sock take off we were good to go.  You have to remember that this is Robbie's race and any time I have to stop to go to the bathroom, take off my socks or anything to that nature, it takes off of his time.  I am there to help him get to the end; this is his race, not mine.  However, I do have to take care of my body also; it is a marathon after all. 

     With the half marathon split being 2:04:38, the second part of the race is where we would have to do some real work.  There is a hill on the course called Heartbreak Hill, which is the notorious killer hill of the race.  Well, what you don't hear about is the other two hills that are only a little shorter than that before and after Heartbreak Hill.  With this being the first Boston Marathon I had run, it was a surprise to me to actually see these hills in person.  From the beginning I described to Robbie that lowering your shoulders and using your arms to help you push yourself up the hill you save your legs on the uphill and keep a steady pace.  He picked it up the first little hill and we were all dialed in.  

            So now there weather is heating up, the crowds are getting louder, most likely due to the amount of alcohol I saw on the course, and we are still taking it one step at a time.  Mile by mile we were going to finish this race, come heat or rain, we would do it.  

     Around mile 17 I took a glance over at Robbie and I knew something was going on with his body.  I asked if he was okay and he said yes, let’s keep going.  Now I know this is his race but at that point it was time to play coach and doctor.  The last thing that he would want was a D.N.F (Did Not Finish), those three words are not in our dictionary.  I told him that we need to pull off to stretch a little.  His legs were feeling the hills and the amount of time they have been going.  We stretched the legs out, got some water and salt, and back on the road we went.  Moving along to mile 20 where the second part of a marathon really starts.  I say that it is the second part of the marathon because the marathon is said to be split up into two parts, the first 20 miles then the last 6.2miles (10k).  Most people do long runs of only 20 miles so the last 6.2 miles is new to them.  At mile 20 of the Boston Marathon you start to come back into town, where the crowds are going crazy and you have the help of the crowd to get you to the end.  The crowd does help, but for us, we had been going for over 2 and half hours and the legs want to stop.  They are telling you to stop, just walk, it will okay if you walk the rest.  Well, Robbie's legs were saying just that.  I had to remind him that we were running the marathon, we had to keep going, we needed to keep the legs moving so they would not cramp up.  We started power walking, go ahead and laugh, it was actually quite amusing, two grown men power walking up the hills and running down the downhills. 

            Another reason to keep the legs moving was a PR for Robbie.  I knew his PR’s and wanted to help him get one today.  We started the race wanting to finish in four hours.  At the four hour mark I started doing the math in my head.  We really needed to push it to get his PR time on that course.  With the legs fading and your body wanting to stop, I talked with Robbie the entire last 5k.  I am guessing he wanted to hit me for talking so much.  What I said to Robbie was something that I have heard in my training, racing, and in life.  Words of encouragement to help the brain overpower the body.  The brain is a powerful thing, you have to know where to go inside of it to keep going when the rest of your body says stop.  The encouragement worked and as we enter the last long stretch of road before making the turn onto the home stretch.  

            Robbie was going to do this, we were going to have a new PR on that course and we were going to secure a slot for next year’s Boston Marathon.  The last stretch was challenging but I reminded him that we ran that same stretch a couple days before and he knew how close the finish was.  He could feel the crowd yelling and it lit a fire under his feet.  Robbie took off, with shoulders dropped, a determination on his face, the last turn was being made.  

            The home stretch was something that I have never felt before.  It was something out of a movie, thousands of people yelling and screaming and cheering for people they don’t even know.  I am not going to lie to you, I was tearing up.  I tear up every race I guide.  Robbie had no idea that I was almost bawling my eyes out.  I tried to pull it together but then I told him what that race meant to me on the last half mile with tears flowing like rain.  What was said will be between Robbie and me but it was basically telling him what he meant to me.   

            When we cross the bright blue finish line Robbie said to me something I will never forget, “Are we done yet?”  I started laughing and told him, “Dude, now you can walk”.  We turned to each other and had a great man hug.  With tears still coming out I told him what that race meant for me.  It was a day I will never forget. Robbie finished the race in 4:42:17 which was a PR for Boston and qualified him for the 2012 Boston Marathon.  

            Having the honor to guide Robbie was amazing.  Knowing that he could not complete that race if I had not been there is pretty heavy.  I would give up any race in my past and trade it for that day in Boston.  He is a huge inspiration to anyone thinking they can’t do a marathon.  Robbie started his training 250 pounds and visually impaired.  When he crossed the line at Boston he was a 160 pound machine and nothing but smiles.  Words can not explain what I felt when the home stretch was being ran.  I have overcome a lot in life but to be able to use my love of running and my strength in a way to help others is something that everyone should experience.  I hope that this story changes one person; that is all it takes, one person to change and myself and Robbie will be happy.  

            With the Paralympics coming up in 2012, triathlon is going to be tested.  Robbie has a five year goal that takes him to the 2012 Paralympics and then to the 2016 Paralympics.  Now, if that is not an inspiration, I don’t know what is.  Believe and Achieve!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Another playlist to keep you rolling!

Another year is upon us, welcome to 2011 !!!

In order to keep you pumped up during those lonely indoor training sessions, Shelley Ann has provided us with another soundtrack playlist.  Enjoy!

Happy New Year!  All the best for 2011.  It promises to be a very exciting year—my first participating in Triathlon.  I’m sure that you all have lots of things that you too want to achieve.  I hope that everyone is well and that you are getting back into training season.  I’m really looking forward to meeting you all when you come to Ottawa this Spring!

Here’s what I’ve been listening to for the last little while when training on a treadmill or elliptical.  Be forewarned, my tastes in music are all over the map!  I’d love to hear what others are listening to!

Running—Jully Black
I Know What I Am—Band of Skulls
Zero—Smashing Pumpkins
Right Now—Van Halen
Love Train—O Jays
Journey To The Centre Of Your Mind—Amboy Dukes
Jigsaw—That 1 Guy
Crazy Train—Ozzy Osbourne