I have a condition called Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which means I have been totally blind and I have been since birth. However, I lead a very independent life, and in my opinion being blind from birth makes it easier for me. I try to always have a positive attitude towards my blindness and this gives me the confidence to live independently but to ask for help when I need it.
I started parkrun because I wanted to make more friends and get involved in my community. My best friend took up running a few years ago and I really wanted to get involved too. I read a post about parkrun from Vision Sports Ireland on Facebook and I commented on it, then a lovely woman named Joan Ryan replied to me immediately. We then messaged each other and I picked up the courage to do Carlow Town parkrun, which is the nearest event to me.
Joan informed the Run Director that I would be joining parkrun. I was very nervous but everyone made me feel very welcome. When I got there I met Claire, a family friend who was going to volunteer in a different role, but when she saw that I needed a guide she offered to volunteer as my guide. She loves running and is very encouraging. I had never run before so she explained what I needed to do.
I think it’s a good idea for the guide and the Visually Impaired person to have a chat before they run. It’s important that the guide has an idea of the VI person’s pace to ensure that the VI runner is not too fast for the guide. The guide runner needs to be able to run at a comfortable pace so that they can talk and run. I would advise that they talk to their VI runner and most of all not to be nervous. All my experiences with guides have been very positive.
I now have two more guides, Padraig and Adrien. I organise my guide at the beginning of the week so I can look forward to parkrun and have no barriers, and my mum gives me a lift to parkrun as she is in town doing her shopping and there is no public transport. I have taken part in eight parkruns now – my first five at Carlow Town, then most recently at Castletown, Griffeen and Donabate.
I was a member of a gym but I have become a lot fitter since starting parkrun. I am now going to increase my distance and I have a guide runner, Noeleen, who runs with me twice a week. We are starting to train for 10k runs now. I am doing the Great Manchester Run in May and when we come back I am cycling with my pilot Dermot on a tandem from Galway to Mallin Head in Donegal over three days. I am also looking forward to doing duathlons during the summer.
My advice to other visually impaired people would be not to think about it and just do it. Sometimes we can over think things and make ourselves more nervous. I have learned from the parkrun community that we are all on a journey as regards our fitness and abilities. I would advise anyone who wants to give running a go for the first time, make friends or just wants to get out and go for a walk and have a chat in a safe environment to start parkrun.
parkrun has been one of the most positive experiences of my life. I have made a lot of friends including Joan, who I am especially grateful to and who I now consider a very good friend. I have gained a lot of confidence from starting my parkrun journey – it has truly changed my life for the better.
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