I find that having an almost naive belief that most everything is possible fuels a mindset that can accelerate movement from the impossible to possible. ~Bradley Davis
Nearly seven months have passed since I last ran without the gift of sight. Special forces were at work the day I covered 13.1 miles in the dark at Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon. They were, and will always be, the most important miles of my life.
But while there won’t be another Thunder Road – at least not like that – some small part of me always knew the blindfold hadn’t served its last mission. Today is National Running Day. On this day last year, I took my first steps as a blind runner. Twelve months later, we’re closer to our goal, but Batten disease continues to steal the lives of kids whose voices I’ve heard and hands I’ve held. It’s winning the battle for my sister. That’s why tonight, I met my friend and guide, Andrew Swistak. I pulled down the blindfold, took one end of a short bungee cord and ran into darkness.
For days, I’ve wondered if blind running would be anything like riding a bike. After all this time, would it be like starting from scratch? Would I run into Andrew’s path or sprain my ankle on a manhole cover or speed bump – simple irregularities the sighted world doesn’t notice, but dangerous obstacles to people like my sister?
It’s not quite like riding a bike, but we fell into an easy rhythm and even had a conversation as we ran. We didn’t take any chances, stopping to walk over the curb that claimed my ankle on this day last year. We headed for the middle school track where I first squeezed my eyes shut and ran forward on a wing and a prayer. There, Andrew took both ends of the bungee cord, and I ran untethered, as I did several times during the race. On the straightaways, we gathered speed, reaching a low to mid-7:00/mile pace. I remember thinking how important it was to have Andrew as my eyes when he gave me the signal to turn. I felt so light – so free – in those moments of running untethered that I would have gone on forever.
We stopped when we reached the 3.1-mile mark, appropriate considering that the 5K was Taylor’s distance. Tonight wasn’t a race, but I still asked Andrew about our splits and overall time. We ran it in 26:50, good for about an 8:38/mile pace despite the stops and walks for safety.
Even throughout our training runs last year, I always had to remind myself that it wasn’t about speed. It was about getting the story out there; it was about finishing the race; it was about something bigger than either of us.
But while none of my runs – blind or sighted – are really about speed – the fight against Batten disease is. Because with every day and week and month, with every year that passes, we have to say goodbye to more kids. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my sister. I’ll never be ready to say goodbye to her. I know that a 6:00/mile won’t get us anywhere more quickly than an 8:00/mile. If I don’t get a great time in my next race, I’ll be okay with that. But I’m not going to let Batten disease kick my ass in the race that matters.