I was once again proud and honored to join many friends and competitors for the first full weekend of December in Sacramento California. Here, by the diligence and vision of Richard Hunter, the United States Association of Blind Athletes partners joined with the Sacramento Running Association to build an incredible experience surrounding the California International Marathon on Sunday morning. Fifty blind athletes, along with their various guides and an incredible collection of support volunteers, gather from around the county with a few celebrated guests from around the world. We are there to compete with ourselves and the course on Sunday, but we are also there for a weekend experience in which we come together to build and grow the mission and vision many of us feel at our core. And yet, too many others have yet to realize these goals and may never realize without all of us putting our efforts behind Richard and the U.S.A.B.A.’s goal.
The United States Association of Blind Athletes empowers Americans who are blind and visually impaired to experience life-changing opportunities in sports, recreation and physical activities, thereby educating and inspiring the nation. The weekend has a multitude of formal gatherings with speakers from within our community presenting poignant perspectives on blindness, athletics, adversity and achievement as well as the central theme of community encouraging and often supplying essential tools to help us become ambassadors for our peers.
Whether it’s understanding the enhancement and opportunity provided through tools like United in Stride, or the more powerful personal journeys which give us all perspective, the weekend has something for all attendees. I have brought various guides through the years and once again I was appreciative to hear how much my friend and guide, Rob Webber, took away from the journey we shared. At multiple times throughout the weekend, we connected to people who demonstrated the gifts life offers any of us when we learn to keep moving forward in positive directions. It’s an uplifting adventure with insight into a diverse group of people who realize the gifts of each opportunity like this weekend.
Race day isn’t a let down to the events by any means, although my own was a little more difficult than I would prefer. Ten days of fighting a cold prior to our flight to California was the backdrop for Tracy pronouncing my cough as bronchitis on Friday. I chose, admittedly with some suspicious belligerence, to put aside this concern and undertake the course. When I spent all night Saturday awake with a frustrating cough and a worsening sickness, things didn’t bode well. Still, this is the National Marathon Championship and both Rob and I had flown across country to compete. I resolved to do my best.
My cough began at the starting line and within the first 200 yards of running and continued throughout the day. We were pretty good about holding our pace and the weather actually was warmer than anticipated with the rain mostly holding off. By mile 15 though, the toll on my body was rising. With no sleep, sickness, and the baseline neurological condition, my vasovagal issues re-emerged. This means I can feel that I’m at risk of passing out and I warned Rob.
Not long after this, Dan Streetman emerged beside us as a guide runner. I would later learn he had noticed I didn’t look well, but at the time I thought he might just be there to give a little extra support. Sure enough in mile 16, with limited warning, the first of many episodes of brief pass-outs took place. As Dan quipped later, “The bad news is that Randy passed out more than seven times; the good news is that we caught him 6 times.” I rarely went to the ground after the first fall and always gently enough that I was unharmed. The sturdy support of my guides allowed me to shake off each episode (which lasts a very short time), recover my focus, rise, walk briefly for a few steps, and then resume running.
It made for a hard day on me and undoubtedly on my guides who never wavered in the encouragement and support. Amidst it all we found the means to share good humor and a determination to appreciate the support all around us and within our team. We crossed the finish line at 4:32 which would be good enough to take the Bronze Medal. More importantly, it strengthened the bond between the three of us for the depth of the experience we shared and my gratitude for their attitude, approach and ability is tremendously high.
Unfortunately, like all experiences, the weekend event comes to an all too sudden end. The awards ceremony is a celebration of far more than the marathon. We celebrate all the people involved in making it possible for this event even as we challenge each other to realize this may be a pillar event for the mission but there is a need to ensure work continues all year to expand and strengthen the vision of what all of us (guides, VI athletes, volunteers, sponsors…) should accomplish if we want to ensure our strides make an even larger difference.
Thus I encourage all of you to come witness the incredible organization brought together by Richard Hunter’s inspirational first steps. Better still, come be a part of the team and invest yourself into an experience that may change your life and most certainly will change the lives of many others as well. This experience is far more than a marathon–it’s about healthier life being in reach for all of us, physically, mentally, emotionally and as a community of people. In these days, building positive community with such a diverse groups is a healthy salve for our entire world.