National Running Day, held annually on the first Wednesday in June, is a national celebration of running. Since 2009, runners everywhere have marked the day by celebrating their passion for the sport.
In the final hours of National Running Day last year, I jogged to a middle school track under an inky, starless sky. There, on the asphalt oval worn smooth by the pounding of thousands of adolescent-sized shoes, I took one end of a short bungee cord in the palm of my hand and squeezed my eyes shut; led by the voice of my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak, I began my initiation as a blind runner.
I ran in darkness eighteen times prior to taking on the biggest race of my life, Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon, on November 16, 2013. Nothing about my training or the race ever came easily, but I said then, and still feel today, that the near-two hours I spent on that course embodied the most incredible experience of my entire life, something that can never be repeated or recaptured.
Shortly after the race ended, everyone asked, “What next?” We accomplished almost everything we set out to do. We raised money for the fight against Batten disease. We had one of the largest teams at Charlotte’s biggest race. We achieved local, state and national media coverage including the cover story in North Carolina’s Endurance Magazine and a nod in Runner’s World magazine. In fact, as I reflected on the race in the hours and days after I hurdled the timing mats at the finish line and buried my face in my mom’s shoulder to cry, I realized that I had just one regret: my sister, Taylor – the inspiration for it all – had declined so much during my months of learning to run 13.1 miles without the gift of sight that she wasn’t well enough to come to the finish line.
And so, as the monster called Batten disease continues to rob bits and pieces of my sister and the lives of children like her, whose hearts hold great love and whose lives once held great possibility, I continue to fight. When people asked me when I’d run another race blindfolded, I said there wouldn’t be another blindfolded race. I can’t reproduce the singular magic of what happened that day, and I won’t try.
But this Wednesday, to celebrate National Running Day and my sister’s courage that still shines like the bright beacon in a storm, I’ll don the blindfold one more time; Andrew will lead me as I run into darkness, and the future.
I’m inviting you and your friends and family – runners and non-runners – to run for Taylor, too. Run a mile or two or 20; run fast or slow; run wherever you’d like; the how and the where aren’t important. Just remember that once upon a time, my blind sister looked Batten disease in the eye, said, “You can’t stop me,” and ran a 5K race. Twice. That’s how my sister lives her life. That’s how I try to live mine.
As for the future…I may be running Thunder Road with my own two eyes this fall, but I have some pretty special things in store. Check back later this week to learn about my next challenge. This fight’s not over. Not even close.