By Randy Pierce
As part of our training to hike mountains for 2020 Vision Quest, Quinn and I added a regiment of running. Guide schools do not typically train for the higher speeds because there is so much for a dog to evaluate during their work. Yet when the terrain was right, I noticed Quinn’s willingness to increase the speed, and under ideal conditions I slowly began to explore the potential of running with him.
Our joint running efforts were a resounding success and after some training we even entered our first official race, “When Irish Legs are Running,” which is a five-mile race in Lowell, MA. Since then, we’ve managed many races and run multiple times per week in a local park. Even at speed, Quinn has a tremendous ability to recognize where he must gently turn me away from obstacles, adjust pace for caution, or even stop for something too dangerous to take without the pause. He gives me the comfort and freedom to be independent and with only a little advocacy we’ve been enjoying every race we choose to enter.
Sami Stoner represents an amazing example of just how much a blind runner can accomplish with determination and the right assistance. This legally blind 16-year-old high school junior began running cross country in 8th grade, just before she began to lose her eyesight due to Stargardt’s disease, macular degeneration that causes blind spots. She wasn’t ready to let anything stop her, and with the help of a human guide she continued to run, despite her increasing vision loss. When that human guide graduated and many thought she might have reached too big of an obstacle, she found the wonder of the guide dog solution.
Sami’s guide dog Chloe helps her manage the obstacles on the course and enjoy the exhilaration such freedom brings. She has also found a great deal of support from the school athletic director who continued to push for the Ohio High School Athletic Association to adjust rules and allow her to run with her guide dog. The OHSAA finally relented, and the pair have demonstrated teamwork on a whole new level to their state and well beyond.
While her times are not yet allowed to be scored and some finish chutes are forbidden to the team, these are just future obstacles from a teen who isn’t interested in the finish line nearly as much as the journey there. That’s a lesson of thankfulness which should reach all of us!
If you want the chance to experience how incredible a guide dog is doing this work, come join us in the Nashua area. Drop us an email and we’ll have you join us at Mine Falls for a run. Quinn will likely amaze you and give credit to the incredible story of Chloe and her human, too!