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14 Jan 17

By Randy Pierce

Gate City Marathon course in Nashua, NH

Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

My friendships, like my running and my blindness, are a journey of small steps with ever increasing promise when I learn to take those steps with a little guidance. Admittedly the running career involves rather a lot of guidance and fortunately for me there’s been an abundance of kind opportunity.

Recently I sat down with Jennifer Jordan, Race Director for the Gate City Marathon, and Tom Cassetty, President of the Gate City Striders. Each of them has guided me for a run in the past. They each have become personal friends of mine and they were sharing some exciting and well timed news.

I had already decided to run the Gate City Marathon on Sunday morning May 21. I had already assembled a team of friends from the 2020 Vision Quest crew to run the relay for themselves while each guided me during their roughly five-mile loop. I had already determined the relay options created such a fun and festive celebration atmosphere in downtown Nashua that I hoped we’d encourage our community of friends to create other teams or just come join us for the block party atmosphere. This is all still true and I absolutely urge all of you to create any combination of teams for the relay, half or full marathon or simply come down and help us celebrate an epic event and experience. If I can help encourage that, please let me know because I’d love to support this event by having you join us in some capacity!

Gate City Marathon Runners

Courtesy of Joe Viger Photography.

Randy: Jumping first to the big news, why have you decided to open a VI (Visually Impaired) Division?

Jennifer: Our race and our club has a mission of inclusion. We want runners of all abilities to feel included and participate. Randy Pierce is a very important club member and friend so what better way to celebrate that friendship than to add this division to our race!

Note from Randy: One of the things I appreciate about my club is the approach that every member is a valuable and important club member as evidenced by this response.

Randy: This is the third year of the Gate City Marathon. What was the inspiration for its origin?

Jennifer: This started as a replacement for the long-standing AppleFest Half Marathon, formerly the club’s signature event. This race was losing popularity and registrations so the club decided it needed a new signature event. A group of members, led by the club president, Tom Cassetty, discussed some options.  Tom wanted a marathon course in a clover-leaf formation that would cross over Main St in Nashua as its center-point, allowing for the relay option in addition to the marathon distance.

Randy: My own experience downtown for your first event and the reports I’ve heard from others suggest you really captured that goal well. The downtown central location showcases Nashua’s downtown in a festive and fun block party atmosphere which I appreciated as a spectator and look forward to as a runner. My wife Tracy and her relay team certainly appreciated the central gathering point for excitement. Many people celebrate it as the best relay marathon because of the central loops from downtown Nashua.  What do you think are the best features of your event?

Jennifer: We agree that one of the best features is the loop or clover-leaf formation.  This allows a marathon runner to be re-charged after every 5-ish miles, making it a great spectator marathon.  Additionally, it allows for runners who may not be ready for the 26.2 distance to also participate by putting a team of friends together. It’s also a celebration of downtown Nashua! In addition to these items, we have a unique high quality swag bag full of goodies from our sponsors, a great tech race shirt, custom finisher medals and a great after-party! We are also very excited to report that our half marathon has been selected as an event in the NH Grand Prix series and will be a certified half marathon distance. Of note, our Marathon is a USATF certified Boston Marathon Qualifier as well.

Randy: While I’ve a little bit of a bias as a proud member of your run club, I thought you might share with our community a little bit about who are these “Gate City Striders” who are putting on this event?

Jennifer: Who are the Gate City Striders?

We are the largest and longest established, non-profit running club in NH, with over 700 members that includes individuals and families. With a strong focus on running, competitively and recreationally, we also focus heavily on community outreach. We provide a free summer youth fitness program: Fitness University; and several events to benefit local charity organizations: NovemberFest race benefits the Nashua Children’s Home, Harvard Pilgrim 5k benefits the Nashua PAL XC program, we partner with and provide financial help to the Nashua YMCA, High Hopes of NH, Nashua Police Athletic League and many others.

 Randy: How did you come to be the Race Director?

Jennifer: In short, I volunteered. A group of us was working on the concept for the race/event and I (with some trepidation) decided I really wanted to do it. I thought my professional experience as a Program Manager would really help me manage this large project. I think I have developed the skills to be able to lead a team and we had and have an exceptional team of folks on the committee. Like most things, a task such as this cannot be done well without a strong, knowledgeable team!

Randy: I might add caring and passionate team to that description and you certainly have all those qualifications. I was already enthusiastic about the race before we sat down to talk and now I’m even more thrilled and hopeful to help bring even more people to join us. The event is on May 21st at 7:00 am. How can people sign up or get information?

Jennifer:

Here are links to our website:  

 Randy: I feel like we’ve covered a lot of ground, though not quite a marathon. Is there anything  else you would like to share with our community.

Jennifer: It should be noted that the Gate City Striders and the committee and volunteers who manage and support the Gate City Marathon, Half Marathon, and Relay are made up 100% of volunteers. An event this size requires hundreds of volunteers to make is a fun and safe event for all. Each year we are challenged to provide enough volunteer support. This year will be not different so we can always use more volunteers! But it cannot go without saying how much we appreciate the volunteers we do get and how much we appreciate how supportive the City of Nashua, the residents and businesses and houses of worship have been over these years. We hope to continue to build on those relationships!

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7 Jan 17

By Jody Sandler

Jody Sandler

Jody Sandler

Happy New Year to the staff, friends and supporters of 2020 Vision Quest! I have been asked by Randy to be a “guest blogger” in order to introduce my organization to you, and to give Randy a vacation from blogging!

We are BluePath Service Dogs, a new non-profit that trains service dogs for families with children with autism. The demand for our services is enormous, as 1 out of every 68 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. We raise and train our extraordinary dogs to ultimately match them with a child and his or her family.

Danny Zarro with Shade

Danny Zarro with Shade

Autism service dogs provide a number of services to a family. First and foremost, our dogs are trained to keep a child on the spectrum safe. Children on the spectrum often show “bolting” behaviors, where they suddenly run away from family, placing them in potentially life threatening situations. Drowning is the leading cause of death for children with autism under the age of 10.

BluePath dogs keep children safe via a specially designed vest, which is tethered to a belt around the child’s waist. Should the child attempt to bolt, the dog will lie down and anchor the child in place. BluePath dogs also provide companionship to a child that has difficulty communicating with other children and can even stimulate social interaction with other children and adults.

Many families with a child on the spectrum curtail trips, vacations, and activities outside the home for fear of their kids’ safety. This affects the whole family, particularly siblings, who miss out on the many things families often do together, like going to a movie, attending sports events or going to restaurants. BluePath service dogs allow families to safely “reconnect,” to go out confidently in their community and enjoy the things that most families take for granted. A BluePath service dog can impact the lives of all of the family members, not just the child with autism.

Although we are newly formed, we have a wealth of experience. Some of us were formerly long-term employees of Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I was the Director of Veterinary Services there for 26 years, and was instrumental in the formation of their “Heeling Autism” service dog program, which was recently closed. This was the motivation to form BluePath, as many children were left without this important service.

Our vision is to become the leader in providing autism service dogs. We are excited to begin helping parents rediscover life’s potential for their children AND themselves. We have great admiration for all that Randy and his team has accomplished with 2020 Vision Quest and we are honored to have the opportunity to introduce ourselves to you here.

On behalf of the BluePath team, we extend our wishes for a happy, healthy and successful New Year to the 2020 Vision Quest family!

Jody Sandler DVM
President and CEO
BluePath Service Dogs
www.bluepathservicedogs.org

BluePath Service Dogs

 

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31 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

My “vision” for 2017 as it pertains to both the 2020 Vision Quest and myself is admittedly fraught with a little more doubt than usual. I’m generally a confident planner with a fair bit of will and determination, yet that was not enough for me to deliver 2016 in quite all of the ways I hoped.

I still count it as a successful year despite the many setbacks and it is for those setbacks I have a little trepidation in setting my sights on the peaks ahead for this year. I still would rather reach for the highest summits and learn to celebrate the higher altitudes even when I’m not reaching every peak with perfection. I think if I reached every goal set forth at the start of the year, perhaps I wouldn’t have challenged myself quite enough.

So with this in mind, some of these goals are reaches but most are reasonable stretches given the supportive team striving for these goals together.

Student posing with Randy and Autumn at schoolSchool Outreach

As the heart of our mission, I’d like to see us elevate from the 54,000 students we’ve reached in schools at this point to more than 60,000 by this time next year! We continue to receive tremendously positive testimonials from students, teachers and administrators as well as parents, so perhaps you might want to volunteer or refer a school to our “For Educators” page that they may schedule a visit from Autumn and and me.

The Book

Delayed by my health challenges, the book writing project halted near the halfway point and that is a setback I consider unacceptable. Its return is a high priority and several other pursuits are getting relegated behind the priority this writing deserves. The plan is to have it finished by the arrival of my birthday in June!

Running Old and New

First up in the running goals is our return to the Boston Marathon with the ability to train properly and appreciate a fully healthy run. We’ll announce the guiding details in the near future but the training program is already underway and going well.

It will be my first of three marathons this year, as I intend to run the Nashua “Gate City Marathon” in May. A special feature of that marathon is the relay option in which five-mile loops will enable many to be part of the celebration as partial participants or spectators from the downtown central location of my hometown!

Lastly, it is my plan to return to the California International Marathon in December and once again attempt to compete for the B1 National Marathon Championship which I was fortunate to win back in 2014.

One other novelty run mixed into the many enjoyable local runs in which I’m often eager to participate is a 7.6-mile run highly touted for having only a single hill. It’s a hill I know rather well since the race occurs along the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Getting into this race is a little tricky but I’ll be doing my best to gain entrance so that in June I can find yet another way to the top of the rock pile infamous for the worst weather in the world.

2020 Vision Quest team on the top of KilimanjaroWorld Traveling

Our Kilimanjaro team has not finalized the late summer plans but it looks very much like a trip to Peru and the Inca trail may be in order. We may visit the ancient city of Machu Picchu or the incredible Rainbow Mountain or even some other as yet undetermined treasure of the Andes. We simply miss the team and experience and so are seeking yet another opportunity.

Certainly there are many more goals great and small which are in my thoughts and which may develop. I want to help the Peak Potential team improve on what many felt was our best ever Peak Potential event last November. I want to always ensure I’m learning, growing and helping others around me do similarly. I hope you’ll help hold me to some of these goals and perhaps join me in the achievements and celebrations!

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23 Dec 16

Randy, Tracy and Autumn sport christmas hats and a beard in front of the Golden Gate BridgeAs we look back at our past year we are filled with thanks for our amazing community. We want to wish you the best of this holiday season, may you enjoy time with loved ones and cherished friends.

Thank you and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!

Tracy, Randy and Autumn

 

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18 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

The plan suggested it was to be a demonstration of Ability Awareness. It was to be an appreciation of the diverse gifts provided by winter hiking. It was a chance to savor the easier footing I would experience as snow filled in those twisty, rocky, root-filled routes we call trails in the White Mountains of NH. The experience would prove to be far greater in scope than I ever realized and like so many things in life, the vastly heightened challenge enhanced the rewards received in like proportion.

The greatest gifts were the many friendships found along the trails from Greg Neault at the base of Hale to Justin Sylvester who took the photo to the right and Dina Sutin who filmed the teaser below as well as the accompanying film. Many friends were found and forged along those trails along with the lessons of perseverance, planning, and preparation. As winter arrives five years later, I’m so vastly different than I was when that first December 22 climb of Tecumseh began. I thought it worth a moment to look back and share a little with all of you who were with me and some who have joined us since those days.

I have so many thankful moments, so many delightful moments, and so many inspiring moments, I could fill a book well beyond the scope of this blog. As my holiday gift to the blog readers out here, I will share a tale in the blog comments for every person who comments and requests one. Similarly for our social media friends if you share our post and tag me so I can be aware of the share, I’ll give you a tale on your post as well. Happy Holidays and my thanks for the greatest gift of all that winter: Quinn’s incredible work, love, and dedication.

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10 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

Hiking Mt. Isolation in 2013Mt. Isolation via Rocky Branch was looming as a daunting challenge for our team as we closed in on the completion of our non-winter 48 summit goal. As its name implies, it has some significant separation from many other trails
and routes more commonly hiked in the White Mountains and our team was a little short of the ideal numbers for the added risk my blindness brings to remote hiking. I had interacted with Mike Cherim  a few times on the internet and was glad for his willingness to join our team. We had a considerable amount of experience already on the trip and we were generally well prepared so he joined to meet, learn a little about the guiding process we use for my total blindness, and to share the enjoyment of hiking.

On the early ascent my Dog Guide Quinn did the work and those new to our team got to appreciate the subtle ways we worked the trails together. As we reached the general flats across the valley with the mud, water crossings and narrowed trails, I switched to a human guide for speed and efficiency under those situations. An experienced friend took that role (thanks, Sherpa John!) and Mike watched occasionally asking a few questions about the process. Mostly though, we were a comfortable group of friends sharing the wilderness. Mike’s excellent eye for photography proved to be an excellent eye for sharing some of the descriptions I might otherwise have missed. The easy-going comfort with which we all fell into conversations as well as times of quiet appreciation highlighted an awareness for allowing our group dynamics to develop naturally to allow us all to appreciate the hike in ways we wanted and needed.

Guiding can be mentally taxing, and as John was a little tired Mike offered to give it a bit of work. He was a natural and showed quickly that he translates his personal comfort and grace on the trails to his ease in guiding my steps through it as well. By the time we rose out of the valley to the ridge line and up to the remote summit, we were all friends sharing the marvels of the wilderness and learning to understand each other and the treasures of experience and knowledge each had brought along with them.

This is not a story about that hike. However, that journey can be found here.

Winter guiding with Randy's groupThis is a story in which I want to talk about guiding. Mike guided me much of the way out of that trip, somehow amazingly taking me through the muddiest of trails while keeping his boots shiny and clean. Better still I was safe and smiling, albeit a little weary. Mike is in tremendous shape which is part of why he is able to be so effective in both guiding and his work with Search and Rescue. His mental toughness to keep high focus through a long day many find grueling was truly impressive, particularly for someone undertaking this for their first time.

It was no fluke either as he would join me and guide more for our Carter Dome trek and once again highlight the knowledge, skills, fun, and friendliness with which he shares his passions for the trails and wilderness experiences. I’ve had many human guides on my mountain treks and a couple tremendous dog guides. I make no secret that my life bond with my dogs has much to do with my preference for our work together even as I understand there are times when the right choice is to use a human guide for a stretch of trail or occasionally longer when speed or types of risk suggest it. The more time I spend with guides the better our effectiveness and rapport develop and the more effective a team we become.

Redline GuidingIn two epic trips with Mike Cherim, it was clear to me how talented and capable we were as a team and he is as a guide in general for me as a totally blind hiker. As such I am not surprised by and absolutely support his  choice to make his passion a career choice with many options to enhance the experience of those who choose from the many fun packages–weddings anyone?!

In fact, I applaud your choice if you decide to use his services with Redline Guiding but more importantly I suspect and the review agrees that you will applaud his services should you make such a choice. In this appreciative blog for his services and all my present and past guides, I have only one simple bias which is that I experienced and appreciated the time we shared on the path and so too, I suspect, will you.

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26 Nov 16

By Randy Pierce

The ever affectionate Autumn interrupted my attempts at typing a blog so I provide a short video on the heart of our mission and how we get there… after a overcoming the Autumn distraction factor!

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20 Nov 16

By Randy Pierce

“Volunteers are not paid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless” – anonymous

Peak Potential team

Thanks to the Peak Potential team!

As I look back through the years of my posts in gratitude to so many different people, it is clear I have never given enough emphasis to a particularly  important collection of friends. There are many volunteers who fully comprise the 2020 Vision Quest team and some of them make the limelight while others are more hidden but all are essential in helping us achieve so much together.

Obviously the Peak Potential team has recently shone with the success of our seventh annual event and the incredible amounts of work by so many on the team.

I want to particularly call out my sister-in-law Monique Pierce who chose to step in as coordinator for me while last year’s illness made it clear I could not reasonably continue. She coordinated the team and put in so much of her own work to deliver such a fantastic event and I’m proud to announce she’ll continue that role next year!

Every week our general staff has a myriad of roles from the blog post management, website, social media, school coordination and development work. These kind and generous friends work together and separately to help ensure that the best ongoing work of our mission is able to be maintained. This has involved thousands of hours since the start of this project and all I can offer is my personal thanks as well as sharing the occasional story of how our work has made a difference in the world around us.

Our Board of Directors has similarly come together to help support the vision, leadership, and direction of the project. They challenge me, support my efforts, and often leap into staff roles and financially supportive roles as well. We all meet once per month for team teleconferences but the work behind the scenes continues.

Finally there are many volunteers who step up from the community to provide a ride to a presentation or to support a particular task which makes our organization more successful. Sometimes it’s connecting us to a school or business, sometimes it’s filling out forms for new donation sources and sometimes it’s simply a call to encourage me on a difficult day. I’m most definitely fortunate to have such a vast resource of people who choose to give of their time, talents and friendship — most especially in support of our 2020 Vision Quest Mission.

Especially for the week of Thanksgiving I hope to ensure you all know how much I appreciate your choice and kindness. Thank you!

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13 Nov 16

By Beth Foote

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

“And you were all there.”

That’s what Randy said on Saturday night during his remarks at 2020 Vision Quest’s 7th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction. He ran through the history of this amazing event–from its humble beginnings in 2010 with 65 people in the Manchester Derryfield Country Club, to last night when we packed 200+ into our massive ballroom in the Courtyard Marriott in Nashua. He told how, in our first year, we gave $2,020 each to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and New Hampshire Association for the Blind, and that now, 6 years later, we’ve been able to give $20,000 to each association each year for the last few years.

“And you were all there.”

In a lively ballroom full of friends and supporters, Randy shared some of his own journey. He shared triumphs: climbing all 48 4,000-foot peaks in a single winter, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, running two Boston Marathons. He also shared sorrows and hardships: the death of his father on the morning of the 2012 Peak Potential, the death of his beloved Guide Dog Quinn a little over a year later, and a resurgence of his mysterious medical condition over the last year that caused frequent blackout episodes. Randy took his audience through his personal highs and lows of the last few years, and came back to this statement:

“And you were all there.”

Both this event and 2020 Vision Quest have grown by leaps and bounds every year. At Peak Potential 2016, with our new expanded space and biggest auction yet, we are expected to have raised more money than any Peak Potential so far. 2020 Vision Quest has reached a total of 53,000 children in our school presentations, 10,000 just this year. We’ve now created the “2020 Visionary” award to honor those who embody the principles of 2020 Vision Quest, and presented it to our inaugural recipient Dr. John Dagianis. Dr. Dagianis’s quick diagnosis of Randy’s condition over a decade ago helped Randy save partial sight at the time, and he is also widely known for his skill, compassion, and humanitarianism.

But what keeps breathing life into our mission is the joy, friendship, and support of our community. Year after year, both at Peak Potential and in between, our community comes together to support us and each other. It’s because of you that we can keep making the difference that is so important to make.

Last night, Michelle Croteau, a teacher at the Adeline C. Marston School in Hampton, NH, gave a presentation about how important our mission was to her students. She said that 2020 Vision Quest shows that “turning a vision into a reality is possible if you just believe in yourself.”

Our mission to encourage people to achieve their dreams and to financially give back to Guiding Eyes and NHAB wouldn’t be possible without you. By believing in us and coming back, year after year, you’ve helped us turn the vision of this event and our charity into reality. Together, we’ve built something that’s amazing and meaningful. Together, we’ve helped make a difference to so many people who need it.

“And you were all there.”

So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We are humbled and honored by your presence and your support. We hope you’ll keep on coming! We can’t do it without you.

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5 Nov 16

By Randy Pierce

Have you ever wondered how a blind person votes? In the past, it has been more challenged than most would prefer. It has generally resulted in me, my dog guide, a volunteer to record my vote and a witness all climbing into one of those small booths together. Often they were wonderfully patient, open-minded and non-judgmental people with whom I had the good fortune to share the details of my voting choices… but not always. There was also a former phone/fax system installed in the polling locations which failed at an alarming rate.

But new this year is the “One4All” voting system which showed considerable promise in the primaries and is now ready for its full debut in our November elections. Let me make it clear for all my NH community, visually impaired or not: this new accessible method of voting needs as many testers as possible. I am inviting all of you to take whatever voting choices you have and enact them on the same voting system I’ve been asked to use.

The New Hampshire Association for the Blind wrote an excellent piece about it which I recommend for those wanting more information. They also created an introductory training video for those wanting to be a bit more prepared for the experience ahead:

In a highly contentious time, I’m proud to suggest the opportunity for each of us to  be guaranteed to vote together in a comfortable solidarity. This system needs to be tested by use. It needs feedback from those who can see where it struggles and those of us entirely trapped by the auditory aspects it provides.

It may take you an extra moment or two at the polls, but if nobody is in that line, perhaps you’d consider giving it a try and ensuring the staff gets a little extra opportunity to test their equipment and that proper feedback can be provided going forward. Tell them you have a friend who is blind and has struggled at times with polling equipment and locations, and has friends who have heard enough horror stories they are intimidated to even attempt it until they hear enough good stories.

Wouldn’t it be comforting to be confident you are part of at least one good story this election cycle?

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