Guiding With Seoul: MABVI Travels to Korea

Kyle and Andrea running

Running in Seoul!

By Andrea Croak, Team Coordinator of MABVI’s Team With A Vision

Recently my coworker Kyle Robidoux invited me on a trip of a lifetime: to head to Seoul, Korea, for a few days and assist in presenting at the K-Sports Foundation’s inaugural 2016 International Guiderunner Conference. There, we would talk about how we at the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) manage our robust volunteer guide services, including MABVI’s 1:1 Volunteer Program; United in Stride, our online guide matching resource; and Team With A Vision, our running team made up of athletes who are blind and visually impaired, their sighted guides, and supporters.

With an opportunity like this, of course I said YES! Continue reading

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Mike Wardian: Running Blindfolded for a Cause

Mike Wardian running blindfolded with Chad Carr guiding

Mike Wardian running blindfolded with Chad Carr guiding in preparation for the Blindfold Challenge at the BAA 5k (Photo credit: Rosa Evora / InsideTracker)

Post by Mike Wardian

“Don’t do it!”

This was the general reaction of many of my friends and family to my announcement that I was going to take part in the “Blindfold Challenge,” an annual event at the Boston Athletic Association (B.A.A.) 5k to raise funds and awareness for local organizations, where I would be running to support the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

All I was thinking was “heck yeah,” but like with so many things, all my loved ones were just doing what they should do and looking out for me. I was just stoked and honored to be asked and thought less about getting hurt and more about what it would feel like, sound like, and how fast I could run without the use of my sight and dependent on another person to lead and guide me.

I had heard about the Blindfold Challenge when a buddy and fellow Ultrarunner named Kyle Rodiboux, who also works for MABVI, asked me to run it. I said “Sure!” We talked a bit about how it would work, who my guide would be (it turned out to be Chad Carr, who is a stud and a cool guy – thank you Chad!) and what I was expected to do. Continue reading

Poor Eyesight, Excellent Vision

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Peter Alan Smith running the 1994 Boston Marathon for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Post by Peter Alan Smith

Peter Alan Smith holds an MBA from Harvard University and is a Trust Administrator for John Hancock, having worked there for almost 30 years. In addition, he currently teaches Risk Management at the College of Charleston’s School of Business and and serves as the Board Chairperson for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind.

Peter hasn’t let vision loss prevent him from pursuing the sports that he loves, including becoming a 1995 Paralympic silver medalist in tandem cycling. At the 1994 Boston Marathon, Peter competed on what would later become known as Team With A Vision with the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI).

Hey there, my name is Peter Alan Smith. I’m also known around Charleston, South Carolina as the Midnight Golfer. That’s the title of my forthcoming book! But the story isn’t just about golf. It’s about joyfully overcoming many diverse obstacles. There will be more to come on that later on.

I ran my first Boston Marathon back in 1993; 23 years ago! I was subsequently recruited by what was then known as the first Nike/MAB Team – what is now called Team With A Vision – to run the 1994 Boston Marathon. I guess that makes me one of MABVI’s grizzled old veterans! I’m 57 now and run 5K’s, toodle around on my tandem, and litter golf courses with stray balls.

After completing the 1993 Boston Marathon, the L Street Running Club asked me to write an article for their newsletter about my experience at the event as a blind runner. So I am sharing it here following some further observations. Continue reading

Heather B. Armstrong: Why I’m Running on Team With A Vision

Heather B. Armstrong posing in a blue Team With A Vision shirt, flexing her right armPost by Heather B. Armstrong

Heather B. Armstrong is the founder of dooce.com, one of the world’s most famous “Mommy Bloggers,” and a New York Times bestselling author. Forbes Magazine named Heather one of the 30 Most Influential Women in Media and Time Magazine twice named her blog as one of the top 25 in the world.

On April 18th, she will join Team With A Vision, which competes each year to raise funds and awareness for The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI), serving as a sighted guide for runner Simon Wheatcroft. This will be Heather’s first time as a sighted guide.

In this guest blog post, Heather talks about her motivations for joining this incredible team of athletes and supporting MABVI:

I’m thrilled to be joining Team With A Vision to help guide athlete Simon Wheatcroft to the Boston Marathon finish line, and equally grateful for what this responsibility means.

I started running in 2011 when I was invited to run the New York City Marathon—mind you, I had never run more than two miles in my entire life—and because I accepted the opportunity less than two months out from the race I was ill-prepared for what 26.2 miles can do to legs, arms, feet, and certain toenails. I broke my foot at mile 17, but I finished the race!

Continue reading

Exercising My Soul as a Boston Marathon Guide for the Visually Impaired

By Dr. Vincent Hau, vitreoretinal physician and surgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Riverside Medical Center, California

Vincent Hau guiding Richard Hunter as they run the Boston Marathon

VIncent Hau guiding Richard Hunter at the Boston Marathon

Like most avid marathon runners, I’ve always dreamed of running the most prestigious marathon race in the world: the Boston Marathon. I first qualified when I was a medical student nearly 11 years ago, but was afraid of requesting time off from my third-year clinical rotations to run it. For the following 10 years I’ve always regretted never asking.

Since joining Kaiser Permanente, an institution that values an employee’s health and well-being via a strong work-life balance, I’ve been able to achieve qualifying for the Boston Marathon again. Ten years later, in 2014, I ran the post-bombing marathon in a personal record time and shared in showing the world how a terrorist act would never dissuade the spirit of our running community.

This year, after having to take nearly a half-year hiatus from training due to plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, I knew that in running Boston I would not get close to the time I achieved last year. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if I should be running at all, since I was still recovering and had run for only a couple of weekends prior. When I asked my orthopedic surgeon and physical therapist if I should run Boston, they answered with silence and that special smirk that implied they knew I would run it anyway if they said no. Continue reading

Doing Good: A Volunteer’s Story

Post by Ilana Bergelson

Ilana and Kate posing together at the gym

Ilana (right) and Kate (left) at the gym.

Having participated in a volunteer program called Service of Sight through Delta Gamma at the University of Chicago, I wanted to carry on the same type of community service following graduation. One moment when I knew I wanted to volunteer with the visually impaired was seeing the blind runners and their guides during the Boston Marathon. Their perseverance was amazing, and even though I was happy to volunteer in whatever way necessary, I secretly hoped I could be a running guide too. I heard about the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (MABVI) through the Delta Gamma alumni group, and with an upcoming training session and a location nearby, I knew I had to join. Continue reading

Gingham Style and Other Calico Dreams

Post by David McCord

David McCord in Arizona, as part of the year he ran in all 50 states

David McCord in Arizona, as part of the year he ran in all 50 states

Occasionally I have a thought. Usually when I announce this, my friends all scream and run for cover. My having a thought is like announcing the end of the Mayan Calendar; nothing good can come of it.

But in 2013, I ran my very first marathon: Boston. Boy, did I pick a year to run Boston! After the bombing occurred, I was stuck eight blocks from the finish line, my brain in a fog, hurting, unclear as to what was happening, trying to stand up for over an hour until we were told by the police, “Go home.”

I went home through back alleyways, since so many streets were closed due to the bombing. No finish. No medal. And it didn’t occur to me until the next day that maybe I could have opened my home to other runners who were visiting Boston, staying in hotels that they could not return to because their hotel was now a part of a crime scene.

A few months later, I had my “big thought”: When I return to the Boston Marathon next year, why not open my home to a visiting visually impaired runner? Continue reading

Running Blindfolded

Post by Elizabeth Mattey

Years ago if you had told me that I’d be running a mile blindfolded, let alone a 5K alongside thousands of other runners, I would not have believed it. “That’s terrifying,” I would have said. “How can you run without seeing where you’re going?”

Fast forward to today: I found a job working for the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and for the first time in my life found myself working with and alongside visually impaired individuals everyday. I realized that these individuals could do pretty much anything a sighted person can do, if given the proper support: I met blind finance executives, lawyers, IT professionals and yes, even runners. I met people who’d lost their vision and then decided to run marathons and complete triathlons – if they could find great guides to be their “eyes” on the race course, then they could compete alongside the sighted athletes, no problem.

If they can do it, I thought, then why can’t I?

So I decided to do the Blindfold Challenge, an event co-sponsored by four Boston-area blindness organizations: the Carroll Center for the Blind, the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, National Braille Press, and Perkins. The Blindfold Challenge is to run a 5K race blindfolded, teamed up with a sighted guide, to simulate the experience of running blind. This year’s Blindfold Challenge was held at the B.A.A. 5K, located at the end of the historic Boston Marathon course, a sold out race at 10,000 runners.

I chose my boyfriend Giulio as my teammate, so for us the Blindfold Challenge doubled as both an exercise in teamwork and couples communication. Before race day we went to a training: my friend Joe Q., an NBP staff member who is visually impaired, trained us how to run as a blind/visually impaired runner-sighted guide team. Joe explained how to use a shoelace as a tether to connect the two runners, how to give verbal commands to guide the blind runner, how to navigate a race course without relying on sight. Giulio and I decided that each of us would practice being the blindfolded runner and the guide, since we each wanted to experience running blind.

Giulio runs blindfolded tethered with Elizabeth, who guides

It was time for us to practice running. First I guided Giulio, leading him around the track at Joe Moakley park, calling out when to turn left and right. Giulio was a natural, having little difficulty eliminating his vision and running ahead fearlessly. When it was my turn to don the blindfold, however, I was … pretty much a mess. The minute I started walking forward blindfolded, I realized I had no perception whatsoever where I was going. My usual lack of spatial perception can actually get worse – without my sight. Once my vision went dark, I started tuning in more accutely on my other senses: I became more focused on my hearing, feeling as if the sounds of the park around me were suddenly magnified, much closer to me. The sounds of the lacrosse game next to us became louder for me, disorienting.

“Are we going through the game?” I began to panic. Apparently running blind wasn’t easy at all.

“No, we’re still on the track – you have to trust me, Elizabeth!” Giulio replied. It all came down to that: trust. A blind athlete running the Boston Marathon has to put complete trust into his or her guide, relying on them to anticipate obstacles, lead to water if needed, basically ensure their safety on the course. So if we were going to be successful in the Blindfold Challenge, we were going to have to trust each other completely.

The morning of the race I woke up at dawn, my stomach doing flips in anticipation. We decided to run to the 5K course from our Cambridge apartment to warm up our muscles before the race and get in some last minute practice – after my disastrous reaction to being blindfolded at our training, Giulio figured I could use all the preparation I could get. As we ran alongside the Charles just after sunrise I began to relax, getting in to my stride.

When we arrived at the 5K start it was a madhouse – we crammed in the chute alongside thousands of other people. I knew that once the race started even with our bib with “guide” written in red letters, it was still going to be tough. I was running blindfolded first: we agreed to trade of at the halfway point on the course so we could each get the experience. The national anthem began and I knew it was time. I put on the blindfold.

We began to run – well, shuffle, at first – forward. Giulio led me through the crowd slowly, until finally we got out into enough space to run. I began to pick up my feet faster. One foot before the other, I told myself. Hold the tether. Follow Giulio. He will guide you. My eyes clenched shut underneath the blindfold, I tried to focus on my breathing and not the sounds of the race around us.

“We are turning left in 10 kilometers,” Giulio warned me, and I began to ease into the turn. I felt the tension of our tether tighten as he guided me along the course, I felt the ground beneath my feet and the wind in my ears. “Is this pace ok for you?” He asked me cautiously.

“I’m good,” I said, surprising myself. “Actually I can go even faster!” We began to pick up more speed, move from a jog into a run. I’m actually doing this! I’m running blindfolded!

“I have to admit, I am impressed you are doing so well,” Giulio remarked as we passed the first mile. “You are much better than the first time at the training.”

“I just needed the practice,” I said. “And I have a great guide.”

As we approached the underpass on Comm. Ave Giulio warned me that the ground was sloping downward. All around me runners began to whoop and cheer, their screams echoing off the cement walls of the cavern. For me the sound was jarring, disorienting, impossibly loud. I grabbed Giulio’s arm and he guided me through the chaos.

We were getting to the halfway point already. Time to switch. Quickly I took off the blindfold and handed it to him: now it was my turn to be the guide. As we came to the first turn I called out in anticipation, “we’re turning, stay close to me!” Now with the blindfold off I realized how close we were to so many other runners all around us.

A woman darted out directly in front of us, oblivious with her headphones on and paying no attention to our tether and guide bib. She jumped close in front of Giulio and he smacked into her.

Luckily she didn’t fall. “Blind runner!” I yelled, looking back as we passed her. “She just wasn’t paying attention, I’m sorry – it happened so quickly!” I pulled on the tether to keep him closer as we cut through the crowd. We turned on to Beacon Street and a lane of open space opened up. “We can pick up the pace!” I said, and Giulio happily began to run faster.

I could see the Marathon finish line up ahead of us, the bleachers set up, the overhang, the bright yellow painted “Finish” on the road before us. “We’re coming to the marathon finish line!” I told Giulio excitedly. Up ahead of us people were stopping to take pictures at the famous spot, which after last year’s bombings have become almost iconic. We were getting closer, I felt my heart leap into my throat. Would I tear up? Don’t get emotional and run Giulio into a pole or something. I had to keep it together, to keep guiding Giulio through the crowds.

When our feet touched down to cross the bold yellow line, I didn’t cry. Instead I let out a whoop of joy. “We just crossed!” I yelled to Giulio, and he put up his fist into the air. We barreled along ahead, running as fast as we could. Finally we’d reached the end of the course, and we slowed, back in the chute. Giulio took off the blindfold.

“You did it!” I said.

“We did it,” he replied.The couple smiles after the race

We finished 5K in 30 minutes, a couple minutes slower than I would have had we not been running with the blindfold. Yet more than any other race that I’ve run, I felt an amazing sense of accomplishment: I had tested myself in a way that I once would have never thought possible, and proved that even I could do it. I experienced firsthand the challenges that blind individuals experience every day, and I have that much more respect – it’s not easy, in fact it’s hard work. But with the right support, anything is possible.

Meet this year’s Team With A Vision

Post and map by Steph Solis

Over 65 runners entered the Visually Impaired Division of the Boston Marathon this year, according to the Boston Athletic Association. Most of them will be running as part of Team With A Vision.

Team With A Vision has been running to raise funds and awareness for blind and visually impaired individuals for 21 years. This year’s team is the largest yet.

We’re bringing in runners from all over the country, as well as some from Canada. Some are champions, others are newcomers, but they’ve all spent the last several months preparing to meet at the starting line in Hopkinton.

Below is a map highlighting the runners from Team With A Vision, including those in the Visually Impaired Division and the Open Division. Click on the link to see each runner’s bio.

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.