Post title: Running to Celebrate the American Disabilities Act

“Hey Hey what do you say, Let’s hear it for the A D A!”

The American Disabilities Act is actually a law that has improved the lives of many individuals with disabilities. Although I’m legally blind, I didn’t know firsthand the various ways the American Disabilities Act helps those with disabilities. I knew only a sliver of what it stood for before I joined a team of vision-impaired and blind runners who chose to celebrate and draw attention to it. The American Disabilities Act means a lot more than requiring access to guide dogs in public places, which is what I knew about it.

Empish Thomas, one of my colleagues from VisionAware, shares her experiences as a blind woman and educates others. She wrote this post about what the American Disabilities Act meant to her after losing her vision. I think this will help my sighted readers have a better understanding of how the American Disabilities Act is improving the lives of those who live with disabilities. Click the following link: https://empishthomas.com/2020/07/23/four-reasons-im-thankful-for-the-ada/

But let me backtrack and start at the beginning.

Joining a Team.

Amy Bovaird at the end of a virtual American Disabilities Act 5kThe urge to join the loosely-knit team came about a week after the call went out from a blind colleague to the “Daring Sisters” Facebook group and email group. The ‘team’ refers to a group of women who stay in touch with each other long after attending any one of the various yearly vision-impaired retreats in Bountiful, Utah, an initiative by Becky Andrews. The empowerment gained from connecting with other women coping with vision loss helps to keep us positive and moving forward in life. We are not alone.

Of course, this run had a purpose. It was to bring attention to and celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the American Disabilities Act.

“Count me in,” I responded enthusiastically. “I’ll take the t-shirt, too.” The shirt, a beautiful teal, contained the logo on the front right side, with seven women in block figures in an open-ended circle – open to show inclusiveness. The words ‘Daring Sisters’ appear in the center with a smaller half-circle of hearts printed in white. We all loved the design.

The virtual team grew rapidly across the United States. We met via Zoom and discussed what the American Disabilities Act meant to us as vision-impaired or blind women. We had varying amounts of experience with the American Disabilities Act so we learned from those impacted by it firsthand. There was even a Zoom panel discussing it on its actual birthday (July 26th).

I enjoyed meeting the other women virtually through Zoom, and hearing the enthusiasm in their voices for the run. My daring sisters’ shared plans as they firmed up of how they would carry out the walk / run. Some ordered a special handmade teal tether for running with a partner (guide). It was the way Becky ran during the Boston Marathon. I had a tether somewhere at home, a gift for giving editing input on Becky’s book. But I really didn’t have any idea of where it was. I planned to run alone on the track, where I usually did.

While preparing myself for the 5K, as I finished lap after lap at the track, I found myself thinking how great it would be to really challenge myself by running with a guide. I would have to get in better shape to run with a guide. Could I do it?

Yes! I dared myself to be more courageous and to do so.

Virtual Race and Guide.

My niece, Rachel, is a marathon runner (and also does triathlons!). She ran a virtual race earlier this year so I learned from her Facebook updates that a “virtual race” can be run anywhere and at any agreed-on time. But the goal is fixed. My niece also has a running buddy, but they both run much faster than I do. So rather than ask them to slow down to run with me, I decided to use them as a resource, and asked the best way to find a guide. Both suggested I post in one of our local Facebook groups since runners like to help each other. So I followed their advice.

Soon after I posted my quest to find a guide, a woman responded. She said she wasn’t a runner but was willing to try to help me reach my goal. I wondered how we would work it out since I had never run with a guide and she had never been a guide, or even a runner. But I was excited and becoming more prepared each day with my workouts.

By the third time our team talked on Zoom, we had become more united and even more enthusiastic. The team had grown to sixty members, that ranged from Ohio to Oregon. Some planned to run like a marathon amount, and others the 5K. Yet others would walk the distance with babies, guide dogs or partners. We would celebrate the American Disabilities Act at our own pace and in our own surroundings.

Becky instructed, “For the next week as you’d like — reply all and let us know when you’ll be running/walking/hiking/wheeling.” We agreed to send photographs and cheer each other on as we each accomplished our task.

My 5K Virtual Race Experience.

In reference to my goal, I waited too long to order a tether. But that worked out okay since my non-running partner, Robin, and I were not experienced with tethers or the art of racing with guides. We agreed to walk locally in a community park which would be more challenging for me than the track since I was not overly familiar with the area, and I would need guidance.

Our walk took place on Monday, May 20. We headed out at 5 pm after Robin finished work and headed for the park in Lake City, the next town over. Just before we entered the gates to the park, I saw Dairy Oasis, a Mom and Pops ice cream joint, and promised myself I would have a cone or hot fudge sundae afterwards.

Robin had planned the route in advance, measuring it to ensure it was 3.1 miles. We would loop around the park three times and do a smaller loop at the end. When Robin said she walked fast, I thought great, we were well-matched. But when she said she walked fast, she meant like a deer flashing through the woods! To keep up, I had to speed walk. But I liked that challenge.

When cars came, Robin verbally guided me to the right or left to let them pass. She also occasionally warned me to stay off the berm of the road so I wouldn’t fall. She noticed right away how often I “played with” my sunglasses. It’s an unconscious thing with me. The sun and shadows were up to their usual tricks with me. I had to don my sunglasses in the extreme sun so I wouldn’t stumble in the bright light. But I had to take them off if there were too many shade trees in order to see where I was going. She did a great job of keeping me safe over the course of our two-hour hike. I had to really focus, so our conversation understandably lagged at times.

Although the air felt muggy, it was a surprisingly energetic walk. When she was in the restroom, I slowed my breathing down and took a swig of water from my thermos. She had brought water too, but left them in her vehicle. 3.1 miles was not so unusual for me, especially in mid-summer. But focusing on the unfamiliar area wore me out. But I was so glad I had challenged myself in this different way.

My only regret? Inexplicably, Dairy Oasis had closed shop at the busiest time of the day – 7 pm! So I forfeited my dream of a hot fudge sundae or a black raspberry / vanilla twist on a cone. Blah!

Team Camaraderie.

What touched me the most were the enthusiastic emails. It added such a level of camaraderie and connection to my team of daring sisters. Every couple of hours, I received a new email, and from over forty-six states! Notes like “Happy Happy Saturday My Lovely Daring Sisters! On my way to San Diego Seaport Village Board Walk to complete my run!” and “I know you can do it.  Take it easy.  Enjoy the journey of it all.” Pictures of clapping hands. “Yay! Go Sisters!” Such wonderful picture descriptions like this one: “…standing amongst jagged rocks. Semi-choppy water behind and a sail boat in the distance. the Sun is making its final appearance as it sets for evening. Yet sky is still aglow!!”And the surprises “…found an amazing discovery. A heritage Giant Sequoia. Beautiful.” And revised plans. “We planned on a walk but we ended up on bikes with the grand kids!”

I think the writer of this emails sums up what we all felt: “Daring Sisters, I am incredibly proud to be a part of this amazing team of sisters. I have loved all your photos & updates about your walks. You rock!!!”

How we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the American Disabilities Act both individually and collectively! That verse at the start of my post is a cheer from a teammate’s guide, said right before they set out to conquer their goal.

To learn more, this article shares key moments leading up to the American Disabilities Act.

How have you challenged yourself during this Covid-19 era? Who have you found connection with to cheer you on, either professionally or personally? Share in the comments below.