My Turn to Coach

By Laura Edwards

Run the Creek 5KMy mom, Sharon King, walks to stay in shape. She’s not a runner and says she’ll never be a runner.

Last year, we walked the Run the Creek 5K together in support of the Batten Disease Support & Research Association. When the finish line came into view, without warning, Mom gave me a gentle push and goaded me into a two-woman race. Then, she broke into a sprint and cackled as she crossed the finish line a split second ahead of her runner daughter.

Mom hasn’t let me forget that she beat me that day. But she’s never run a 5K from start to finish – something my sister Taylor, who’s blind and suffers from Batten disease, did twice.

On Nov. 16, I’ll run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K. And about 30 minutes after my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, and I each grasp an end of a three-foot bungee cord and I pull the blindfold over my eyes to begin my first-ever blindfolded half marathon, Mom will join a mass of people for the start of the event’s 5K.

Mom says she’s not ready to run that 5K today. But Andrew’s done a great job coaching me to run in a dark world, and now it’s my turn to coach. Over the next four months, I’ll alternate between meeting Andrew for blindfolded runs on the Charlotte streets and meeting Mom at the Y for 5K training. We’ll start by alternating between running two minutes, then walking two minutes. We’ll work up to a mile, then two, then three.

By race day, Mom will be a force on that 3.1-mile race course. She may not believe in her ability to run a 5K from start to finish, but I do. Because she told me today that she’ll run it for Taylor. And I’ve never known my mom to fail at anything she said she would do.

The Thunder Road Marathon, Thunder Road Half Marathon and 5K have plenty of room for other Taylor’s Tale supporters. If you’re interested in running to honor Taylor and support Taylor’s Tale, the 501(c)3 non-profit organization we founded to fight Batten disease and other rare diseases, please contact us.


By Laura Edwards


After an eight-day hiatus from running, I laced up an ankle brace, slung a three-foot bungee cord around my shoulders and knotted a blindfold above my ponytail. At 10:11 p.m., I met my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, at the foot of my driveway. I said a silent prayer for no errant curbs or potholes and pulled my blindfold down over my eyes. Together, we took off into the black night for blindfolded run number six.

Andrew avoided tight cul-de-sacs out of respect for my ankle, and my ankle brace did its job. We kept it short and slow, logging 2.56 miles in 25:24 – a 9:53/mile pace. I averaged about an 8:53/mile pace at the Thunder Road Half Marathon last fall, and I know we have some work to do if we want to approach my normal speed. It helps to remember that the Thunder Road course will feel like one of those deserted, flat, two-lane highways stretching into infinity from old Western movies compared to the loopy streets of my neighborhood, which require lots of tight turns and verbal direction from Andrew and unquestionably slow us down.


I’d like to become a faster blindfolded runner. But the truth is that I’m only doing this for people like my sister, Taylor, and when it comes to the fight against Batten disease and other rare diseases, I really don’t care who crosses the finish line first. It’s not a competition.

I’ve always thought that running can be a very lonely sport until race day. But the fight I fight for my sister every day is a team effort. I’ve met a lot of teammates since July 24, 2006 – the day we learned that Taylor has infantile Batten disease. I believe in Taylor’s Tale, the non-profit organization I co-founded in her honor, with all of my heart. On race day, I’ll wear the color purple for Taylor’s Tale, as I always do. Just before I lace up my shoes, I’ll use a purple marker to ink the phrase “4 TAYLOR” down my left arm, opposite my Taylor’s Tale wristband. But whether it’s our name or someone else’s in lights the day kids like my sister no longer have to suffer, I don’t care.

Today, we don’t have a treatment for people like Taylor. Doctors still tell families like mine to take their kids home and love them and make happy memories, because there’s nothing else they can do. A treatment is the only finish line I care about. So until we have one, I’ll just keep on running.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy CenterTo support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

after run with Taylor

Just Keep Running

By Laura Edwards

first night with the blindfoldLast night, I broke out a makeshift blindfold for training run number four with my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak. I ran with my eyes closed for our first three runs, but even squeezing them shut didn’t block out all of the light or provide an experience of total blindness. At 10:28 p.m., Andrew and I took off from my mailbox; after a few blindfold adjustments on the run, we found our stride.

Andrew doesn’t tell me where we are on our runs, though if I guess correctly (which is rare), he’ll tell me. But I run with a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch, so afterward, I can connect it to my laptop and get a map of our route. When Andrew drops me off at my house at the end of the night, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of where we went. But it’s obvious from the Garmin maps that my internal compass is all out of whack. Last night, I thought we made it halfway across our neighborhood, which has multiple sections and over 800 houses. But the Garmin map traced a route that covered just eight short streets with lots of cul-de-sacs (great for practicing turns) in a tight area within half a mile of my house. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Andrew signed up to lead me to the finish line of the Thunder Road Half Marathon on Nov. 16.

We covered 3.79 miles in 40:48, so we lost some speed to the blindfold and all of those switchbacks. My ankle’s still a little balky from that first night, too, but it’ll get better. A lot of people say this is a great thing I’m doing for my sister or believe it’s some kind of sacrifice on my part. But I love my training runs with Andrew. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a runner, and I’ve learned more than I ever imagined I could learn about my sister’s dark world. And I can throw my blindfold in the laundry with the rest of my running duds at the end of the night. I can drink in the beauty of another day when the sun rises the morning after a run. I’m not where I want to be for this run on Nov. 16, but I’m sticking with it. I know what Taylor would do if she hit a bump in the road.

She’d just keep running.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Lights Out

By Laura Edwards

Since announcing my intent to run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded on Nov. 16, I’ve run with my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, three times. The first time, I started with my eyes open to get a feel for the three-foot bungee cord that will be my lifeline throughout the 13.1-mile race. After about 10 minutes, I closed my eyes. The last two times, I ran with my eyes closed, but even the pale moonlight and occasional street light reminded me that, unlike my little sister, Taylor, I’m not really blind.

Andrew doesn’t know it yet, but I broke out a makeshift blindfold for training run number four. And when he picks me up at the foot of my driveway later tonight, I’ll be ready!

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

first night with the blindfold

Picking Up Speed

By Laura Edwards

On Thursday evening, I sat by my living room window and blogged about blind run number two as wind and rain pelted the glass. Between 8 and 9 p.m., the deluge ended, and a purplish, backlit sky cloaked the drenched tree canopies and rooftops of my neighborhood. And at 10:09, Andrew picked me up at my mailbox for blind run number three.

As with run number two, I closed my eyes as soon as I took hold of my end of the three-foot bungee cord, my lifeline for these sightless runs designed to prepare me to run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded on Nov. 16. We turned left at the first intersection and climbed a hill that doesn’t look threatening but always makes me wheeze when I tackle it at the beginning of a run. At the top of the hill, we took another left. At that point, I lost my way.

There is a blinking caution light at the major intersection in our neighborhood, on the main road near the clubhouse. When we ran through the intersection, I glimpsed the flashing red light in the black night, even though my eyes were closed, and I knew where we were. I guessed which direction we were headed, because I could feel the grade of the road beneath my feet and know that the road slopes downward away from the clubhouse and back toward my house. Otherwise, I didn’t have the slightest idea where we were throughout the entire 4.56-mile run. To this day, I marvel at how a blind person can navigate this wide world, with all of its dangers and obstacles, without the gift of sight. I’ve lived in my neighborhood for more than seven years; I’ve likely run the equivalent of over 1,000 miles on its streets; and yet if Andrew left me on the side of the road in the middle of one of our runs and told me to make my way home without using my eyes, I couldn’t do it, at least not now.

Despite the fact that my spatial awareness isn’t where I would like it to be, I’ve got plenty of time for that. Plus, we improved our pace by more than 90 seconds, dropping to a 9:42 mile. I’d still like to get to somewhere in the neighborhood of a 9:00 mile for longer distances, based on the fact that with my eyes, I average in the mid-7:00 range for middle distance races (i.e. 10Ks) and low to mid-8:00 range for long-distance races.

Thanks for joining Andrew and me on the road! Read on to learn about our cause and how you can get involved.

I will run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Finding My Sea Legs

By Laura Edwards

This fall, I’ll run Charlotte’s Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K, raise awareness of Batten disease and support the gene therapy research Taylor’s Tale is co-funding at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Last Wednesday, I celebrated National Running Day by going on my first trial run with my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak. Six days and one twisted ankle (mine) later, I felt ready for round two.

Shortly before 10 p.m., I wrapped my bum ankle and met Andrew at my mailbox with our lifeline, a three-foot bungee cord, draped over my shoulders.

Last week, I ran sighted for about 10 minutes to get used to the feeling of being “connected” to someone, and I practiced running with my eyes closed on a middle school track before we headed out into the unmarked, obstacle-riddled world.

This week, I closed my eyes as soon as I felt Andrew’s grip on the other end of that bungee cord. “Let’s go!” I said. I felt none of the roller coaster sensations I experienced when I closed my eyes at the beginning of our first run.

We ran 5.45 miles in 1:01:50 – good for a leisurely pace of 11:21 per mile – including multiple stretches during which we inched our way through a narrow, fenced path, waited for oncoming cars and stopped to step over speed bumps out of respect for my ankle. But we talked throughout the run (I talked about my sister a lot), and my ankle held up like a champ. When Andrew delivered me back to my driveway a few minutes before 11 p.m., long after most of the lights in the windows on my cul-de-sac winked out, I felt the meaning and the magnitude of this run – and our battle for people like Taylor – within every fiber of my sweat-soaked, adrenaline-charged body in the muggy, quiet June night.

Wind, rain and thunder pounded our neighborhood just 30 minutes ago, but all signs point to clear skies by later tonight. If you live close by and happen to be up and about in three or four hours, you might just catch a glimpse of two runners connected by a three-foot bungee cord and a shared mission, cutting through the black night, running toward the light.

I am running the Thunder Road Half Marathon to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Running in the Dark

By Laura Edwards

Two nights ago, I ate an early dinner and waited for several hours to give my grilled cheese, my apple and my neighbors a chance to wind down. Then, I donned a reflective hat, strapped on my Garmin watch and laced up my running shoes. With a bungee cord in hand, I jogged .7 miles under inky, starless skies to the home of my friend, Andrew Swistak, a fellow runner who works at The Fletcher School, where my sister, Taylor, spent six wonderful years.

Just after sunrise on the morning of Nov. 16, I will pull on a blindfold after I lace up my shoes, and Andrew will guide me through the 13.1-mile Thunder Road Half Marathon course on the streets of my hometown of Charlotte. I will attempt to run the entire race without the gift of sight to honor the five-year anniversary of Taylor’s first 5K race, which she ran in conjunction with the 2008 edition of Thunder Road with the help of an older student from Fletcher.

But on this night – National Running Day and my first training run with Andrew – I had no blindfold and, with corrective lenses, perfect vision. Our goal for the evening was to get accustomed to running with the bungee cord.

blindfolded run 1

Early on in our run, though, Andrew took me to the track at the middle school by our neighborhood so we could get used to making turns. And in that protected environment, he asked me if I wanted to give blindness a try, at least for a minute. So I closed my eyes.

Right away, I lost my spatial awareness. The bottom dropped out from under me. My legs turned to Jell-O, and my body felt as though it was not my own. I couldn’t run in a straight line.

But soon, with Andrew’s help, I found my bearings in my dark world. I think we ran five laps around the track. Andrew said that for the most part, I stayed in my lane, even on the turns. I learned to understand the meaning of his tugs on the bungee cord. After a while, we left the track and returned to the neighborhood. I figured out how to make 90-degree turns and 180-degree turns and shift to the side for an oncoming car. At one point, Andrew asked me if my eyes were really closed. And they were.

I thought I’d mastered running blind – albeit much more slowly than I run sighted – until I mistimed a curb jump and twisted my ankle. And in that moment, I remembered that NOTHING about blindness is easy, just as nothing about this race will be easy.

But nothing about Batten disease or rare diseases is easy, and nothing about our fight to save people like Taylor is easy. And a twisted ankle on my first attempt isn’t enough to stop me. An ACE bandage, an ice pack and a couple of days’ rest work wonders for such injuries. And besides, going to work with an ice pack taped to my ankle gave me a natural opening to tell plenty of people about my blindfolded run and the reason behind it, so we spread Taylor’s Tale this week.

And I have a great guide in Andrew Swistak, not to mention a healthy dose of inspiration. There will be no twisted ankles on Nov. 16. We’ll be ready.

I am running the Thunder Road Half Marathon to support gene therapy co-funded by Taylor’s Tale at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. Donations to this cause are 100 percent tax-deductible. To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

Run to the Light

By Laura Edwards

My little sister, Taylor, has Batten disease. But that didn’t stop her from signing up for Girls on the Run in the fall of 2008, at the start of her fifth grade year at The Fletcher School. The degenerative disease had already stolen her vision and made it difficult for her to learn new things, but more than anything, Taylor wanted to be a normal kid, and she dared Batten disease to get in her way.

In the afternoons after school, Taylor and her girlfriends met at the track for practice. They developed good fitness habits and learned about teamwork, and they learned to believe in themselves. An upper school student named Mary-Kate stayed after school to practice with the younger girls. When it came time to walk or run around the track, she and Taylor each took one end of a modified jump rope – my sister’s lifeline to a normal experience she desperately craved.

At the last practice of the semester, the girls ran a “practice” 5K around the school track. All of the other girls finished their laps before Taylor and Mary-Kate. Then, as the pair rounded the corner and began their final lap, something magical happened. One by one, everyone on the sideline joined my sister and her sighted guide on the track. Soon, the whole team, plus the coaches and others there to watch the practice, fell into stride with my sister and ran her final lap with her. Girls on the Run Founder Molly Barker happened to be on campus that day to watch practice and meet the girls; she captured this incredible moment in a story for North Carolina’s Endurance Magazine that Gap Inc. also featured in a national campaign last year.

Mom's photos 232

The team’s first REAL race took place on a chilly morning that December at the Jingle Jog 5K, run on the streets of uptown Charlotte in conjunction with the Thunder Road Marathon and Half Marathon. Mary-Kate told us that Taylor stumbled and fell several times on the course, but that after each fall, she pulled herself up, said she could keep running, and did just that. The tethered pair finished the race in just under an hour. They didn’t run fast enough to win an official award, but watching them cross that finish line remains one of the most moving things I’ve ever witnessed. In that moment, I realized that I could never, EVER give up on my sister or my fight against Batten disease. And when the trees bloomed that next spring, I started running for her.

Taylor and Laura after the Jingle Jog 5K in 2008

Taylor was all smiles after the Jingle Jog 5K in 2008.

I’ve run thousands of miles for Taylor since that day at the finish line of the Jingle Jog 5K. I run the Thunder Road Half Marathon every year and run various other races in Charlotte and elsewhere, from 5Ks to 10 milers, and I’ve shaved more than 30 minutes off my half marathon time since my first go at the 13.1 distance in 2009. But I’ve never come close to achieving the kind of feat my sister accomplished, because I’ve run every race with the benefit of my vision. That’s why, to honor the five-year anniversary of her incredible achievement, I plan to run the 2013 Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded. 

I’ll be tethered to my good friend, Andrew Swistak. Andrew is an avid runner and is also on staff at The Fletcher School, where my sister spent six wonderful years and met many guardian angels. I’m grateful to have Andrew’s support as well as the support of the folks at Run For Your Life, who put on the Thunder Road Marathon and Half Marathon.

Andrew will be my sighted guide at the Thunder Road Half Marathon this November.

Andrew will be my sighted guide at the Thunder Road Half Marathon this November.

I’m in half marathon shape now, but I’m not ready to run 13.1 miles – or even 13.1 feet – without my eyes. Have you ever closed your eyes and tried to move around? It’s not easy to run in the dark. I’m in awe of Taylor’s spatial awareness and courage. Andrew and I have some practicing to do between now and Nov. 16, but we’ll be ready.

I’m doing this mainly to raise awareness of Batten disease, but donations to Taylor’s Tale are always greatly appreciated. Currently, Taylor’s Tale and five partners are supporting gene therapy for infantile and late infantile Batten disease at the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center. This promising work could lead to treatments for not only rare diseases such as Batten disease, but also more common diseases like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). If all goes well, this work could be ready to go to clinical trial at UNC in just a few years.

Please share this story to help us build awareness! We’re making incredible progress in the fight to save people like Taylor, but we need the support of friends like you to continue to make a difference.

I have a little bit of my sister in me; I believe, and I dare Batten disease to get in my way!

To support my run and our fight to develop treatments for Batten disease and other genetic diseases, click here.

NEW: Join the Taylor’s Tale team at Thunder Road! Click here to register for the marathon, half marathon or 5K. On the second page of registration, under “Event Groups/Teams,” select “Taylor’s Tale” from the list under “Choose an Existing Group.” Run for us to help raise awareness on race day. Stay tuned for more details, including special shirts for team members and an informal post-race event!

running for Taylor

If You Have Wings, You Fly

By Laura Edwards

before Thunder RoadI opened my eyes a few minutes before 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17 with surprising ease. I swung my bare feet out from under my warm down comforter and winced – but only a little – when they first hit the cold hardwood floor. First in the bathroom, then in the closet, I went through the robotic motions of brushing my teeth, splashing lukewarm water onto my sleep-deprived face, pulling my hair into a ponytail and trading my cotton pjs for compression tights and thin, sweat-wicking layers on top – purple for Taylor’s Tale. I coaxed my still-dreaming dog into the kitchen, where my friend Kelli and I toasted bagels and drank juice and wished for more time.

After snapping a few photos and checking our gear not once, but twice for good measure, we drove two miles to the nearest light rail station and, after 10 minutes in the teeth-chattering morning chill (we didn’t take jackets), snagged a ride to uptown Charlotte for the Thunder Road Half Marathon. Each time the train stopped, more runners joined us. As we rode, I thought about how I hadn’t really trained – at least not to the extent that I’d trained for other races. I thought about how I should have worn a top layer with pockets for tissues (I’d had a nasty head cold all week). I thought about how I could have stuffed extra moleskin and bandages into those pockets, too (I had a walnut-sized blood blister on the bottom of my left foot from a 10-mile run a week earlier).

As we got closer and closer to uptown, I threw my time goal out the window. And as the train coasted into our destination, I turned to Kelli and said, “I’m just going to have fun today. No pressure!”

As we stood inside the climate-controlled convention center, stealing a few minutes of warmth before the race began,  I reached down to check the contents of my tiny waist pack one last time…except that I couldn’t open it. Somehow, the zipper got jammed, trapping my energy beans and Chapstick inside. Neither are super important in the grand scheme of things, but most runners are particular about their routines, and I’m no exception. And I have to have my energy beans and Chapstick when I go for a long run.

Somehow, though, I got over it. We made our way outdoors into the throng of thousands packed into a few city blocks, and when the race began at 7:45 a.m., we inched forward with the others until we crossed the timing mat, then walked till the pack leaders burst ahead, making room for the rest of us. And then, after what seemed like an eternity but in reality was likely about a minute, we broke free.

I knew right away that things would go better than I’d expected. The air didn’t seem nearly as cold as it did just moments earlier, and it felt good when it filled my lungs. Every time I approached a hill, I found an unexpected burst of energy. My head felt clear. My foot didn’t hurt at all. I settled into a fairly consistent pace of about 8:50/mile – a little slower than my typical pace for 10-mile races but faster than my fastest half marathon pace.

After a particularly long climb around mile five, I got a little winded. I never thought about walking. I did consider slowing down. But then, I thought about how Taylor ran part of the same course in her first 5K, in December 2008, and never once stopped to walk (even when she fell and scraped her knees). I remembered that one of my sister’s former classmates and his father were somewhere on the half marathon course at that very moment – running for her – and that they had vowed to run the entire way, because Taylor never gave up. I thought about Kelli, somewhere behind me, and a handful of others who’d dedicated their race to my little sister and her courageous battle against a disease that has stolen her ability to run (and so much else) since an incredible year in which she ran two 5K races and a practice 5K. I thought of all of those things, and I kept running.

Less than a mile before the finish line, I ran beneath the bridge where, during the same race two years ago, I approached a runner with a cane. Blind, he nevertheless completed an urban half marathon without the assistance of a guide. He provided the final push I needed to finish my race that day. This time, I had only my own will and the image of my little sister, fighting a demon of a disease at home, nine miles away.

TR medalNo matter how a race goes, I always end with a dash to the finish line. As soon as the final timing mat and those six glorious letters come into view, I shift gears and finish with a hard sprint. But just as I began to make my break for the end of Thunder Road, I tweaked my left calf muscle. At that very moment, the pain felt so excruciating that I immediately thought I tore something. I never envisioned crawling across the finish line, but for a brief moment, I thought I might be forced to do so.

Somehow, though, I managed to jog-hop the last 100 yards of the 13.1-mile course. I finished with a time of 1:57:20, good for a new personal record (PR) in the half marathon. And as I wrapped myself in an aluminum blanket and poured water down my throat, I discovered that the pain in my leg was gone, replaced by an all-over feel-good sensation.

I know that I can’t run Batten disease out of Taylor’s life. I know that I can’t chase down a therapy for kids like my sister, no matter how much I train. I know that the running is mostly for me. It’s my therapy. But it’s darn good therapy; without it, I wouldn’t have the guts or the energy to fight this monster day in and day out. And if telling my crazy running stories translates into one more comrade for us in the fight against Batten disease, it’s all worth it to me.

The day after the race, of course, I paid the price for recording a new personal record with a head cold, the world’s biggest blood blister and a slack training schedule. But I didn’t care then, and I don’t care now. Taylor gave me wings. And if you have wings, you fly.