Getting to the finish line as a team

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Ed Rutkowski, runner 11618 on the left wearing sunglasses and fist-pumping, and Tim Paul, runner 16504, cross the finish line of the 2003 Boston Marathon.

This post was written by Ed Rutkowski, a 2003 sighted guide on Team With A Vision.

For me, running a marathon was an improbable undertaking. I didn’t expect I’d be running the Boston Marathon, much less after getting knee surgery and experiencing some vision loss. However, I eventually became a running guide for Team With A Vision in 2003.

I had already run the Boston Marathon when I came across a short newspaper article about Barbara Lischinsky, a blind woman who was running the marathon as part of Team With A Vision. Having undergoing retina repairs and cataract surgery in both eyes, I decided I would direct my running efforts at charities like MABVI. This inspired my Boston qualification run at Disney in January 2003, after which I received an invitation to be a running guide. Even more special, I learned that my partner would be Tim Paul, a 1976 graduate of Lyons Township High School in Illionis where I had graduated 10 years before!

I first met Tim on the Saturday before the race. We looped the shoestring between our fingers and went on a five-mile run.  Although this was my very first experience as a guide, Tim and I immediately fell into an easy rhythm and I quickly learned how to use the tether for direction— slack for left and tension for right. I have no explanation as to why guiding Tim with that simple shoestring, which I had never been introduced to until that first day, became almost immediately second nature to me.

I had few expectations, other than knowing that it would be Tim’s race and that I was there simply to facilitate it being the best race he could run. Tim adjusted to the course and his fatigue and then I adjusted to Tim. From that run, I recognized that finishing would be a challenge for Tim and me, but he seemed very confident and determined.

While I was constantly talking and encouraging Tim throughout the race, he said only one sentence to me over those final miles: “Only wimps walk.”  Indeed I guided Tim around numerous walkers.  Tim was pleased with his time at Boston.  And, for me, that was all that counted.

The day after the race, I had breakfast with Tim and four other visually impaired folks at the Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge where we stayed. That breakfast that was almost as memorable as the race itself. I was the only sighted individual at the table, so I read off the menu. Having two young daughters, that was not the first time I had done this, but I never had to repeat a thing. Everyone ordered from my first reading. Tim, who sat next to me, dropped his fork during the meal. I got up and retrieved a clean one from another table and told everyone what I was doing. A few minutes later, Tim dropped his folk again. I got up, retrieved another fork and told Tim that if he dropped this one that he was going to have to get on the floor and find it himself. That brought out a big laugh from everyone, including Tim.  Before that weekend, I would have never thought to joke with a blind person like that.

That marathon was the slowest of five Boston runs, but it was also the most rewarding. My years of running have ended, but my memories of TWAV will last forever. Indeed TWAV proved itself to be Boston Strong well before it became a universal saying.

Focus on Function: The Low Vision Exam

Optometrist Jen Salvo offers insight into the low vision exam.

Optometrist Jen Salvo offers insight into the low vision exam.

This post was written by Dr. Jennifer Salvo, a low vision optometrist. She sees patients for MABVI in Holyoke and Springfield and also provides low vision care in Wellesley Wayland, and Hyannis through her private practice. For more information about Dr. Salvo and her low vision practice, visit www.metrolowvision.com  or call her at 508-740-0706 to schedule an appointment.

If you have impaired vision, and your eye doctor is unable to restore your vision with treatment or surgery, where do you go for help? When your doctor tells you, “There’s nothing more I can do” or “These are the strongest glasses I can give you”, what is your next step?

Many people give up at this point and become increasingly isolated and depressed due to their vision loss. However, there is help available, and your next step should be a low vision exam. A low vision exam is far different than the one you receive when you visit your retina doctor or glaucoma specialist. It is a functional assessment–meaning that the low vision doctor will assess your ability to perform daily tasks, hobbies and activities, and will also address safety concerns.

After performing various vision and reading tests, the low vision doctor will evaluate and prescribe appropriate devices and make recommendations for improving your functioning. The doctor may recommend LED magnifiers, high-powered reading glasses, telescopes, television glasses, or video magnifiers. He or she may also recommend in-home training with an occupational therapist who specializes in working with visually impaired individuals.

Although you may receive a new glasses prescription at the low vision exam, glasses will not restore vision that is lost due to retinal damage or eye disease. However, the low vision doctor can help you maximize the use of your remaining vision.  The low vision exam is the starting point for receiving the services and devices to help you regain independence  and maintain activities you enjoy.

Click here to hear Boston-area low vision optometrist Richard Jamara describe how he helps individuals living with vision loss.​