On Nov. 16, I’ll run the Thunder Road Half Marathon blindfolded to honor my little sister’s fight against Batten disease and raise money for gene therapy at the University of North Carolina. Since early June, I’ve gone on six training runs with my sighted guide, Andrew Swistak, and we made more progress in those first six runs than I ever dreamed possible.
But I haven’t run in darkness since July 1. I’ve been on vacation for a week, and our schedules don’t jive in the coming week. I’ll keep my fitness level; running is part of my life, whether or not I’m training for a race. But I’m not blind, and running without my eyes isn’t like riding a bike without training wheels. It takes practice. So I expect to be a little rusty the next time I pull a blindfold over my eyes and grab hold of my lifeline, a three-foot bungee cord.
I’ve been on the South Carolina coast for the past week, and I laced up my third-string Brooks Glycerin shoes – the ones that have about 800 miles on them – for a couple of runs on the beach. On a late afternoon run at low tide, I thought about my long stretch without any practice runs with Andrew and wondered if I could survive a near-deserted, flat area of the beach with my eyes closed.
I started my experiment on the part of the beach between the powdery dry sand that the waves never reach – ankle-breaking sand – and the damp sand that just hours before had been underwater. I scanned the beach ahead of me for tidal pools and child-dug holes, saw none, said a silent prayer and closed my eyes.
Ten seconds later, the surf filled my tired Brooks shoes. The tide didn’t change; I just veered off course by seven or eight feet in those 10 seconds.
I kept my eyes open the rest of the way.
My self-imposed lesson brought back a memory of a hot summer afternoon at the same beach six years ago. Taylor’s vision had already begun to fail her, but otherwise, she was still the happy, vibrant, healthy kid we knew.
Despite her vision loss, Taylor could run from our chairs to the ocean and back again, low tide or not. She had one hell of an internal compass, and she had no fear.
I’ve never been as fearless as my little sister. Even in that 10-second experiment on the same beach Taylor once ruled in summers that are now only a memory, I feared that I might re-injure my ankle or trip over a child running out of nowhere to chase a seagull or catch a wave.
Like it or not, those smooth, wide beaches are in our past. The path ahead is uneven ground. I’ll need at least an ounce of my sister’s courage to keep going. And whether I run one blindfolded race or one hundred, I’ll need to keep my eyes wide open for the real fight.
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.