Even when you’re going blind like me, running is a great source of exercise and enjoyment that makes it worth pursuing. As one foot after the other pounds the pavement, I feel alive and think about blisters, speed, distance and feeling fit like every other runner. More than anything, running makes me feel as if I’m still living life my way.
My running has taken many forms—from timing myself as I dashed to my friends’ houses and back as a child to regularly running hills with a friend in high school. I even found a way to keep up my passion overseas by joining Hash House Harriers, an international running club. Each month we sprinted along planned routes that took us through rice paddies, along tropical beaches and, in one country, the Arab Gulf. Being a vision-impaired runner overseas was a great way to make international friends. I discovered this when I took a wrong turn in a chest-high rice paddy. “Help!” brought Japanese, Chinese and a German runner to my rescue!
By the time I moved back home, my vision loss had progressed to the point where running through my neighborhood endangered me. If a sewer grating didn’t trip me up, then the uneven sidewalk did. After I received my cane, I experimented by trying to run with it. I should have videotaped those attempts for America’s Funniest Videos. Not only did I keep outrunning my cane, I also looked like a reluctant pole vaulter who never jumped forward.
Now I find it best to run in a controlled area. Luckily, the high school track is less than a mile from home. A smooth, body-friendly track works well. A tumble there doesn’t leave much of a scar. Occasionally, the track and field hurdles block my path and catch me off guard or I cross a few lanes on a bad vision day. But it isn’t crowded enough to deter me. This environment enables me to pursue my running goals. When others run alongside me, the motivation is even stronger. I feel as if I’m flying down the track!
One summer night, I decided to fit in a run. When I laced up my running shoes, I noticed a band-aid with one end flapping and pressed the loose side down, covering the remnant of my last running fiasco. It only took a few minutes to hit the track and get into my running groove. I wondered what adventure the evening’s run would bring.
It was hot and muggy so the sweat poured off me. As I plucked my shirt from my chest to provide more air, the words a running colleague said came back to me: Men sweat and women glisten. Hmph! When it came to running, sweat was sweat.
The bright sun suddenly blinded me. My eyes closed involuntarily and when they opened, they veered to the right side of the track. An organized succession of black dots appeared. Is that Braille? Why would the school put up a Braille sign in summer? How did the coach know a legally blind runner was using the track?
Coming up on the curve where the Braille dots were, I tried to read them and instead crashed into a chain-link fence surrounding the track! It took a minute to realize the “Braille” was actually the visible chain links that formed part of the fence. I’d crossed six lanes to “read” the Braille but not with my hands—this time it was with my head. Ouch! My band-aid dangled off my hand again and I gently removed it before setting out to resume my run.
A few more laps around and I came up with a name for the phenomena and defined it. “Light-outs:” the act of running at sunset, which causes temporary blindness, occurring on the right side of the track. At the curve, I put one foot in front of the other and attempted to run straight even when the lane marker washed in and out of view.
My thoughts drifted to another temporary blindness—a weather-related phenomenon. Area residents referred to them as “white-outs.” During our blustery Pennsylvania winters when I still drove, I used to pass through pockets of pure white. In our lake effect storms, the wind whipped the snow across the highway, wiping out the sight of everything for a few seconds. At least running blind, I worried only about the speed of my legs and not four wheels and an engine! Besides, the left side of the track arrived soon enough and my vision returned.
Better finish up here. Soon it’ll be dark. I was on my seventh lap. A glance at the sky told me I didn’t have much time before it was “lights out.” The darkness descended swiftly, just like when my mother used to say, “Okay, lights out now. Go to sleep.” The sun set on the track almost as fast.
Speeding up, I realized I ran a fine line between light-outs and lights out. It seemed strange that both the light and the darkness blinded me.
My eighth lap made two miles. Happy to reach my goal, I found my hand towel hanging on the fence, wiped the sweat off me and quickly stretched. Because I never brought my cane to the track, I had to quick-foot it home so I wouldn’t get lost—even though the road was familiar.
Heading home that night, I thought of all the excitement my running caused me.
All I can say is “That’s life in the track lane!”
The track works for me now. But it’s just another strategy that allows me to pursue my passion for running. One day I will have to tug onto the next tether —leader dogs and running guides—both which will allow me to live life on my terms.