Imagine running 26.2 miles tied to another runner. For some, it’s the only way they can cross the finish line.
The concept of sighted guides tethered to visually impaired runners isn’t new to the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon, nor is it new to other races organized by local running company Run For Your Life. But this is the first time since the race began in 2005 that the Charlotte Marathon will include an award for the top visually-impaired tethered runner.
New local nonprofit Para≈Guide is working to get visually impaired runners across the Charlotte Marathon’s finish line Nov. 11, and maybe even into that No. 1 spot in the awards category.
“We’re helping athletes get to the finish line who otherwise couldn’t,” said Shannon Houlihan, who co-founded Para≈Guide this year with EPT Racing founder Paul Harrold to help the visually impaired run, walk, swim, cycle and compete in athletics with the help of a sighted guide.
“It’s helping them forget their vision loss and accomplish a goal that otherwise would be daunting,” said Laurie Hoffman, a Low Vision Optometrist with Metrolina Association for the Blind, which offers services to facilitate the independence of visually impaired individuals while also improving their quality of life.
Para≈Guide and Metrolina Association for the Blind have joined forces to create a team for the Charlotte Marathon. The hope is that the Metrolina Association for the Blind team will consist of at least 100 people, including sighted guides, visually impaired participants and other supporting participants across the various marathon categories. The Charlotte Marathon is hosting a full marathon, half marathon, 5K, relay and kids’ 1-mile and marathon program.
Houlihan, an avid triathlete, is leading sighted guide training sessions for the Charlotte Marathon for anyone who wants to sign up to join the Metrolina Association for the Blind team. A portion of the team’s registration proceeds have the opportunity to go back into the association’s mission.
“We’re looking for people of all paces and abilities,” said Houlihan, who recently ran the OrthoCarolina 10K tethered to a visually impaired friend.
The tether is a length of synthetic rope that binds the two runners side-by-side. One big challenge is communication.
“It’s incredible to think about the things that you don’t think about because you see them,” she said.
Like, say, a pothole, a shift in elevation or a stick that suddenly becomes an obstacle and needs to be communicated to the visually impaired runner.
As a sighted runner, she said, the jostling of a crowd is the biggest challenge.
“I’m the buffer for the blind athlete,” she said.
Register to run (or walk) in the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon with the Metrolina Association for the Blind here.
Become a sighted guide through Para≈Guide by filling out the form here. Or, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for the next sighted guide training at Freedom Park (the group is meeting at 1613 Princeton Ave. near the pond) on Sunday, Sept. 17, from 2-3:30 p.m.
Register to run (or walk) in the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon here.
Photo: Courtesy of Shannon Houlihan