Getting to the finish line as a team

Tim Paul_Edit (1)

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.

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