News, Press - 18th September 2018
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Blind parkrunner hits Berlin Wall

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Melbourne based parkrunner Simon Watharow, visited Germany to run the Berlin Marathon last weekend. Obviously, he also came to check out the local parkrun scene in Germany, which is one of the fastest growing countries in the global parkrun family.

 

Simon is vision impaired and to conquer the marathon, Simon formed a team with three other parkrunners. This made his adventure a team project, in order to navigate him over the course without risking the safety of himself or runners around him. Team Simon consisted of Svenja Beck and Martin Beck, who both used to call Jells parkrun in Melbourne their home until moving to Germany last year and David Sweeney. All three of them are now event team members at Neckarau parkrun in Mannheim, Germany.

 

Team Simon flew along the 42.195 km like a well-oiled machine. Inside a dense field of runners, they worked their way through Berlin’s streets in a triangle formation, rotating through three different jobs. Svenja Beck explained their strategy before the run:

 

“One of the guides will run left to Simon, connected with him through a tether in their hands, to fulfil the actual guiding function. He or she will give him verbal instructions about the street conditions, turns, hazards and other challenges. The second guide, which – with a wink – we sometimes refer to as the “bulldozer”, will run a few meters ahead of Simon to friendly warn the runners in front of us that a vision impaired runner and his guides are about to pass them from behind and thus will need a bit more space.”

 

This job turned out to be particularly challenging in such a big event as Berlin Marathon because the international field of runners required multilingual skills and the loud cheering from the spectating crowd, demanded strong vocal chords.

 

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“The third guide ”, Neckarau event director David continued, “will run at Simon’s right in order to also protect him on this side and to keep the gap to the bulldozer clear and to overcome hurdles that might suddenly appear between the bulldozer and Simon”.

 

Simon and his team mastered the Berlin marathon sound and safe, sharing an amazing experience. Simon laughed and admitted: “After about 25 km I really hit the ‘Berlin wall’. I’m used to walking into walls once in a while, but that one was a particularly hard one.”

 

Before Martin and Svenja moved to Germany in October 2018, they were part of Melbourne’s parkrun community and Svenja was regularly running with Simon at Jells parkrun. They got to know each other through the Achilles running club. “Achilles is connecting vision-impaired runners with guides and this combination brings running to a whole new level, making it a unique team sport”, elaborates Martin excitedly. Besides weekly training runs and participation in running events, parkrun is an important part of the Achilles community. And this is how a great friendship developed between Svenja, Martin and Simon.

 

Only hours after landing in Germany after 40 hours of travelling on four different aeroplanes, Simon ran Hasenheide parkrun in Berlin a day before the marathon. This event turned out to become the biggest parkrun in Germany to date with more than 500 runners. “Now I am very much looking forward to getting to know the new home parkrun of Svenja and Martin in Mannheim next Saturday, and I am at least equally excited about their famous after-run breakfast!”, said Simon. To complete his Europe trip, Simon is planning to run a third parkrun in the UK: Bushy Park.

 

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Simon wanted to thank all of the people supporting him in Australia in the lead up to his adventure: “Running organisations like parkrun and Achilles Melbourne, their dedication and generosity, make running not only rewarding but life-changing”.

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