Going The Distance Despite Vision Loss

vision loss and going the distance

The typical reaction I get when I tell someone I run half marathons for fun is that I’m crazy. Then when they hear that I run them with my blind mother? That’s when they are truly blown away. For whatever reason, most people believe that people who are visually impaired sit at home and don’t do anything. They don’t realize that individuals with visual impairments are still people! And like any other person, they need exercise and activities that challenge them to push their limits.

One day (I’m still not sure how I did it), I was able to talk my mom into running a half marathon with me—and it wasn’t just any old half marathon. I wanted to run a RunDisney half marathon through Walt Disney World. It’s pretty simple: Anything that happens at Walt Disney World is freaking awesome.

At first, we talked about how great this experience would be. We would push our bodies to do what some never do, and we would have an incredible mother-daughter trip in the mix. Then we started to talk about the little adjustments we’d need to make so my mom would be comfortable during the race.

First, was our running pace equal? Our paces needed to be the same, so that I could stay with my mom through the race to guide her should any obstacles arise. Since I was away at college at the time, we couldn’t train together very often. So we set our pace goal, and every couple of weeks, we’d run together to make sure our paces matched up.

The next adjustment we considered was our shoe colors. We couldn’t wear dark-colored shoes, since they would blend in with the pavement. So we went to a store that specializes in finding the perfect running shoe for each individual. Once we found the right shoes, we had them bring out the brightest colors they had. We then took the shoes over to the track in the store so my mom could see which colors stood out the best. Then we were able to try on the shoes and trot down the track to make sure my mom was comfortable with our choices.

Our next challenge was communication. We learned rather quickly that it was better for both of us not to wear headphones because we’d need to hear each other in the roar of the race. RunDisney races typically sell out and have over 10,000 participants. With that many feet hitting the pavement around us, we knew we wouldn’t always be able to hear each other. In times when it’s packed, and it’s hard to hear, a nudge or pull on my mom’s elbow lets her know which way to go. My mom does have some of her peripheral vision, so if something happens and we must move quickly, a wave of my hand in my mom’s “sweet spot” can do the trick.

In case you’re wondering, my mom and I have run two half marathons together and have our third coming up in February 2020. I hope this shines some light on the capabilities of those without sight. For those with sight, never underestimate those with low vision. They can do anything we can do. To those without vision, I hope that this inspires you or sparks an idea—you can run a half marathon if you want! In fact, many races offer sighted guides to those who need it and allow guide dogs during the race. It’s all about finding the right tools that help you, and then you can cross that finish line!

As my friend Walt Disney said, “First, think. Second, dream. Third, believe. And finally, dare.”

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